The lack of any cover or competition for Harry Kane over the last several seasons has led to a player who is overworked and under available for Tottenham Hotspur.
Last season across the top five leagues in Europe, only 13 players scored more goals domestically than Harry Kane who had 18 goals in the Premier League. Of those 14 total players, not one started a larger percentage of matches he played, or played more minutes per appearance, or missed more games than Kane.
Kane is the talisman for Tottenham Hotspur, just like Jamie Vardy is for Leicester City or Romelu Lukaku for Inter, or Robert Lewandowski is for Bayern. As such it is expected that as the star the player is going to start most matches and play most of the minutes.
However, what counts as “most” is something different for most players than it is for Kane. And after a stinker in the season opener showing a real lack of energy, questions around the cover needed for Kane are already growing. So just how overworked is Kane?
Kane goes the distance
Harry Kane likes to start, and he likes to play, as all professional athletes do. However, there is a limit to what one can do physically and when that limit is reached, things start to break and that is kind of how it is for Kane.
Of the 14 top scorers across Europe’s top five leagues, only Cristiano Ronaldo started every match he played, just like Kane. Other stars like Ciro Immobile – top scorer in Europe domestically last year – Lewandowski, and Lionel Messi all only start about 95 percent of their team’s matches.
Other players, like Raheem Sterling and Danny Ings only started in 85 percent and 83 percent of their respective team matches. In fact, eight of the top 14 scorers started less than 95 percent of their teams’ matches, showing that someone else occasionally was getting the call. The importance of not starting is most reflected in the number of minutes per appearance these players make. NOTE: All player statistics are from Transfermarkt.us.
Kane averaged an astounding 89.41 minutes per appearance last season. That was even more minutes per appearance than Cristiano Ronaldo, who is renowned for both his fitness and egotistical drive to play. In fact, only five of the players in this study averaged more than 85 minutes per match. Ings only averaged 74 minutes an appearance, yet still managed 25 goals in all competitions.
Likewise, Sterling only averaged 76 minutes per appearance and still bagged 31 goals and 10 assists. Sure, Vardy, Messi, Ronaldo, and Lewandowski all play over 85 out of 90 minutes per match, but over time those minutes add up and more importantly for their teams, those players are far more available than Kane has been for Spurs.
Five minutes per match over the course of a 38 games season is an extra 190 minutes or the equivalent of two matches. Simply taking Harry off for the last five minutes of each match would save the equivalent of multiple games over the course of a season.
Kane wearing down
Instead of taking some time off for the occasional rest, Kane is pushed to the point of exhaustion and breaks down. Only once in his entire career has Harry Kane played all 38 matches in a domestic season, back in 2015-16. While Kane did manage 37 of the 38 matches in 2017-18, in the last two seasons Kane has missed 19 matches in the Premier League alone. That is more than 1,200 minutes of football that comes from not getting five minutes here or there.
The fact is none of the other 14 top goal scorers are unavailable as much as Kane. During the 2019-20 campaign, Kane only played in 65 percent of all of Tottenham’s matches during the season. The next lowest percentage of club matches played among the top 14 goal scorers was by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who managed to appear in 81 percent of all of Arsenal’s games last season.
For many coaches, the best ability is a player’s availability and when you miss 35 percent of a season, you are simply not available. Immobile, Lewandowski, Timo Werner, Lukaku, Ings, Karim Benzema, and Francesco Caputo all played more than 90 percent of their teams’ matches on the year. Ings is a perfect example here as he is slightly undersized and plays in the same Premier League as Kane.
Ings does a lot of work for Southampton and as such is given adequate rest. At just over 74 minutes per appearance, Ings is still logging 85 percent of the minutes each match, but is also getting some adequate rest, allowing him to make more appearances. In other words, it would be like having have Harry for 100 percent of the minutes in 70 percent of the matches or have Harry for 80 percent of the minutes in 90 percent of the matches.
Ultimately, Harry Kane like any top striker is going to dominate the minutes at the forward position in his team. However, if that domination is total, it is likely going to lead to total loss of Kane for a period.
I personally would rather have Harry play harder for fewer minutes each match and see what happens. Of course, competition, not just cover makes all this possible, and that leads us back to Daniel Levy, the board, and what got us in this mess in the first place, the inability to find that cover. The data is overwhelming, the need is obvious. What happens next, not so much.