Harry Kane believes he has only just reached half-time. It might appear a slightly dismissive, almost self-deprecating assessment of a career that’s already seem him excel at Tottenham, become England‘s captain and all-time record goal scorer and join Bayern Munich for €100 million ($110m) as their new talismanic No. 9 this summer.
But Kane judges himself by the highest standards and against the game’s greatest players. Many would buckle under such comparisons, but the striker has actively invited it, spending the last decade aspiring to rival the feats of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the dynamic duopoly at the top of world football for so long. Ronaldo may now be 38 years old and Messi 36, but they remain Kane’s inspiration after he celebrated his 30th birthday back in June.
“I think of what they’ve done, they are as good in their 30s as they were in their 20s,” Kane told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “Me just turning 30 now, it obviously gives me excitement to know if I keep my body in good shape and keep my mentality right, I could be playing at the highest level for as long as I want to do it.
“Those players [Ronaldo and Messi] have set the bar — those and a few others as well — and it just motivates me and tells me that it’s possible. It is great watching those players still performing, two of the greatest players ever to play our game. For me now, it is almost the second half of my career. I’ve had a good first half; now, can the second half be even better?”
It will have to go some way to rival what’s come before. Kane ended a 19-year association with Tottenham this summer, departing as the club’s all-time leading scorer with 280 competitive goals. Only Alan Shearer (260) scored more in the Premier League‘s history than Kane’s 213. Kane has 59 goals in 86 England games. He looks likely to set a final figure that could last for decades. Yet despite these individual achievements, self-improvement remains his overarching goal. It is what makes him who he is.
“From a really young age, it’s just that determination to get better, to always push myself to my limits,” he said. “I’ve always said to myself I never want to get to retirement age, look back and think ‘what if I’d just done that or what if I’d pushed myself there.’ No matter how good I’ve been or how good the season has been, there’s always room to get better.
“That just comes from maybe a mentality at a young age, good people around me always pushing me to improve and never to rest on what I’ve achieved. That’s just carried forward into my professional life and my life in general. That’s something that will never leave me. Until the day I hang up my boots, I’ll always be pushing for more and always trying to get more out of myself and the teams I’m playing in. That’ll continue.”
The obvious difference is silverware. Ronaldo turned 30 in February 2015. By that stage, he had won — among a plethora of other prizes — three Premier Leagues, two Champions Leagues, one LaLiga title, and three Ballons d’Or. He would win Euro 2016 with Portugal the following year.
Messi was 30 in June 2017 when he equally achieved a long list of triumphs that includes four Champions Leagues, eight LaLiga titles, three Club World Cups, and five of his seven Ballons d’Or.
For all his statistical achievements, Kane is yet to win a major honour for club or country. One Champions League final, one European Championship final and two League Cup finals all ended with runners-up medals. Although his €100m move to Bayern was the product of a desire to challenge himself in a new country, it also represents a chance to feel a “different pressure,” as he previously put it, to win silverware.
At Tottenham, there was hope; with Bayern, there is expectation. Four goals in four Bundesliga games is an encouraging start made all the more impressive given the state of flux behind the scenes. Kane sealed his move from Spurs on Aug. 12. His wife, Katie, gave birth to their fourth child, Henry, eight days later and on Sept. 3, after his fourth Bayern appearance, he returned to England for international duty.
Consequently, his family is yet to move across to the continent and he’s still working out the logistics of working with his nutritionist and chef, Dan Sargeant, who started helping Kane almost a decade ago, regularly preparing food that the forward or his partner would then cook.
“A lot has happened in the space of the past four or five weeks, both in professional life and personal life,” he explained. “I started my first Germán lesson in the week, so there’s been a lot of change. Dan is still a part of my team and will always be a part of my team. He has been great for me pretty much for my whole career, so we’ll figure out the best way of doing that — whether it is him just giving me a plan and working with the chefs out here, or finding a way to come out and continue what we’ve been doing.
“These are all the parts off the pitch that I need to still figure out, but for sure Dan is still a big part of what I’m doing.”
Kane reflects on his Champions League heartbreak with Spurs
Harry Kane says the pain of having lost in a Champions League final is added motivation to win the trophy with Bayern Munich.
What he continues to do is search for marginal gains. Kane is speaking after becoming a brand ambassador for Skechers, who have developed the boot he now wears for club and country. This and other developments have contributed to a reduction in the persistent ankle injuries that had hampered him in previous seasons, but the ultimate barometer of progress will come in ending that long wait for a trophy.
Bayern are seeking their 12th consecutive Bundesliga title and while that is not quite a foregone conclusion, ultimate judgement will likely come in the Champions League, where the Bavarians began their Group A campaign at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday evening with a 4-3 win against Manchester United, where Kane scored from the penalty spot.
Harry Kane says he’d love to explore a career as an NFL kicker after he retires from ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/SlC87We1pq
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 31, 2023
“With Tottenham, our aim was to win it every year,” Kane said. “Maybe from the outside that wasn’t always a possibility, but in our heads, in our team, that was always what we wanted to do. I don’t think I’ll prepare any different. Of course, it is a competition that the club made clear they want to win so for me it is about going out there in every game I play, give it my best and try to perform at that level.”
Kane’s nearest success came in 2019 when Spurs were beaten 2-0 by Liverpool in the Champions League final, a marginal scoreline that does not reflect how little Tottenham were able to impose themselves on their opponents. The frustration still lingers.
“Whenever you’ve been close to a major championship, it always leaves that fire in your belly to go and get back there and go one step further,” he said. “It is the same with England as it was with Tottenham in that Champions League final. Of course, they are heartbreaking losses and losses that probably live with you for the rest of your life. But for sure, it gives you motivation to get back there and go one step further.”
One of those ankle injuries came in the build-up to that game at the Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid. The rumour has long been that Kane wasn’t physically able to give his best in the biggest club game of his life.
“I was totally fit,” he replied. “I know there was a lot of talk around that game and after it but I had plenty of time. I was training within plenty of time to play that final. It is always the case when things don’t quite work out that people look for an excuse or a reason why.
“But we just got beat on the day [by a team] that performed better than us and that’s the reality of it. For me, I had a clear head and I think you have to respect the manager’s decision — I don’t think the manager would ever make the decision that wasn’t the right one for his team.”
His quest to go one better with Bayern started against a team he was long linked with joining. In fact, United fans were so confident in the validity of that speculation when Erik ten Hag’s side played Tottenham in April, they sang “Harry Kane, we’ll see you in June.”
“Yeah, I heard it when I was on the pitch,” he said. “But sometimes fans are singing good things about me, sometimes fans are singing bad things about me. That’s just the nature of football. I don’t let that in, whether it is good or bad. I just focus on what I need to do. Man United are a fantastic club, one of the biggest clubs in the world. They are going through a bit of a tough spell right now, but you always have to be careful against these teams.”
Is Harry Kane serious about a future in the NFL?
Harry Kane tells ESPN FC’s James Olley about his NFL aspirations once he’s done with football.
In the final reckoning, United did not seriously pursue a deal for Kane, partly due to a concern Spurs chairman Daniel Levy would refuse to do business with another English club. Kane went as far as to suggest there had been “talks with a few clubs” when addressing media on Tuesday ahead of United’s visit, but later in the day, Levy offered a more surprising revelation at a fans forum event when confirming Spurs included a clause to re-sign him permanently in their agreement with Bayern.
Quite when — if ever — a return to England would arise is unknown, but for now, Kane is focused on acclimatising to life at Bayern while targeting the longevity of Ronaldo and Messi. Ronaldo may now be 38 plying his trade in Saudi Arabia‘s fledgling Pro League, but his phenomenal consistency endures: 21 goals in 21 games so far for Al Nassr. Messi, 36, won the World Cup with Argentina last year and is now lighting up Major League Soccer with Inter Miami, registering 11 goals and eight assists in his first 11 matches.
Doubts about the quality in both leagues persist, but the two icons keep delivering, just in the manner Kane strives for. Yet lingering on the horizon is the possibility of a dramatic course correction. Kane’s fondness for the NFL is well-documented and he has on several occasions expressed a vague desire to try his luck as a kicker. It is tempting to imagine he has his career all mapped out.
“I just take it year by year,” he said. “I still feel I’ve got loads of years left to play. Maybe when I get to my late 30s I’ll start thinking about what I want to do after football a bit further down the line.
“For now, it is just about enjoying every moment, enjoying being a footballer because it goes so quick. Already, probably being at the highest level for nine years, those years have flown by. So I’m just trying to take it all in year by year, game by game, laying it all out there and delivering my best for the teams that I’m playing for and that’s what I’ll continue to do. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself.”
But is he serious about the NFL? Would it potentially mean curtailing his career as a footballer to give himself a better chance physically of lasting the pace in America?
“A lot of people talk to me about that and of course I’ve always said it is something I’d like to explore at a later date, but I think it all depends on where I’m at in my career, whether I am happy to continue playing football,” he said. “There are a lot of question marks. It is something that is in the back of my mind but it is still a long way away. Again, it is not something I am thinking about right now. Time will tell. In life sometimes things just play out how they are supposed to play out. We’ll see in five, six, seven years where I’m at, where I want to be, what I want to do. I’ll make that decision then.”
After all, the “second half” of Kane’s career has only just begun.