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Celebrating Harry Kane's rare talent - the art of goalscoring

Simon BarnesFebruary 9, 2015
Mauricio Pochettino: Harry Kane can get better still

If you catch one of those round-the-grounds Saturday afternoon football programmes on television or radio, you'll get at least half-a-dozen instances when the breathless observer tells us that the forward missed "when it looked easier to score".

Well, it may well have looked easier but it bloody well wasn't. It's always easier to miss. Even from a yard out and the goalkeeper absent, putting the ball into the goal is one of the hardest things in sport.

Look at it this way. If you were asked to press a button that would make a bell ring, you'd find it easy. But if you were asked to press a button that would give several thousand people a painful electric shock, you'd hesitate.

The problem with scoring goals is that it goes against everything we've learned about living in a civilised society

Which brings us to Harry Kane. Overnight sensation. Sure, he's been brewing up for something all season, but a Spurs striker scoring twice to beat Arsenal from one-down: that's quite a statement. That makes 22 goals in 34 matches this season. He's 21, and quite obviously the answer to every problem the England football team ever had.

Not because he's brilliant, in the manner of George Best or Lionel Messi. But on the evidence of this season, he's extremely good at scoring goals - at pressing the button that causes pain. And that's a rare a thing.

His goals against Arsenal make a nicely contrasting pair, showing some of the different talents a goal-scorer requires. The first was a thread-the-needle shot through a crowd in the six yard box. It would have been a decent footballing effort had it been a pass but the target was goal and that made it a thing of wonder.

His second was a looping header while back-pedalling: a difficult skill but not one that would make you gasp had you seen it in the centre circle. But he didn't nod the ball over an opposing midfielder, he nodded it over the goalkeeper and under the bar.

The scoring of goals is a skill quite separate from the usual ones of making a football do what you want. It's one of the enduring mysteries of football. Glenn Hoddle, when England manager, dismissed Michael Owen as "not a natural goal-scorer". Owen scored 26 goals for England in competitive matches, 40 in all.

People talk about "instinctive" goal-scorers, about "natural" goal-scorers, about "poachers", as if that explained it. But it remains a mystery, one that football clubs will bleed themselves white for. Manchester United paid Monaco £6 million to have the services of Radamel Falcao for a single season, with possibilities of buying him outright for another £43.5m.

Falcao scored 100 goals in his first three seasons in Europe. On Sunday, he missed when through on goal, missed, yes, when it looked easier to score. This season he's scored four times in 16 games. Something's not right; with him, with the way he is being managed.

Harry Kane scored twice against Arsenal last weekend © Getty Images

In the same match - Manchester United were at West Ham - there was a midfielder of a certain age called Wayne Rooney. Rooney caught the public's attention at 18 as he took the European Championship of 2004 with a glorious precocious confidence. He scored goals almost literally for fun; he looked as if he would end up with an impossible number to his name. These days he's turning into a very decent midfielder.

So it's clear that the talent for scoring goals is not something you can rely on. It comes and goes like Karma Chameleon. Sometimes strikers suffer from a scoring block: a form of the yips in which they do everything right apart from kicking the ball straight when it really matters.

That's what happened to Fernando Torres when he was bought from Liverpool by Chelsea for a then-record £50m. That move - that price - turned him in an instant from the terror of the Premier League to a running joke. What's the cure for a broken striker? Keep playing him? Rest him? Tell him he's great? Tell him he's useless?

No one knows. I remember Bill Shankly talking of Roger Hunt all those years back: "Yes, he misses a few. But he gets into the right places to miss them."

The problem with scoring goals is that it goes against everything we've learned about living in a civilised society. You don't knock people out of your way as you walk down the street. You don't charge into the lift before the others have left it. You don't grab food from a stranger's plate. Society works on a system of small, almost invisible courtesies: little acts of generosity that we expect to be performed for us in turn.

A goalscorer needs to work against these profound inhibitions. Such inhibitions don't come into play when you're hammering shots from long range, but a real striker doesn't get paid for those goal-of-the-month goals. His job is converting - again and again and again - those easier-to-score-than-to-miss chances.

So he must reject the inhibition against causing pain to others. He can do so by remembering that he's doing it for the greater good of his own team: like a soldier or a spy committing unnameable atrocities from a sense of duty. Others, like Luis Suarez, score with a kind of sociopathic relish.

The great strikers tend to have a sort of Zen-like purity. They withdraw from all the spite, strife and baggage that goes with scoring a goal. Instead, they see only the ball and its target. There was something of that in Gary Lineker, who scored 48 goals for England. It was, in a way, almost ego-less. I'm not sure that Kane has that ability, or that it's one that can be acquired - but certainly it's one possessed by strikers who do it year after year.

But hell, let's revel in what's in front of us. There's nothing like the emergence of a promising young player, especially if he's from England and you happen to be English. It was Kane's weekend all right. A striker's weekend. All about the art of the goal.

Gary Lineker scored 48 goals for England and had a Zen-like purity © Getty Images

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Writer Bio

Simon Barnes was Chief Sports Writer at The Times and UK Sports Columnist of the Year in 2001 and 2007. He writes about a wide variety of sports for, as well as and ESPNcricinfo. He has written more than 20 books including The Meaning of Sport and three novels. On Twitter he is @simonbarneswild

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