How Conte made Kane the best player in the world right now
It’s become fashionable over the past year to discuss who could be the best footballer in the world ‘right now’.
The last time the idea caught on was when Mohamed Salah was widely anointed for scoring some barely believable solo goals for Liverpool, albeit after Karim Benzema’s winning header against Chelsea in midfield. week, there will now be conversations about his claim to the throne.
The reason for the conversation’s newfound popularity is quite simple. Until about a year ago, the answer to the question for over a decade was unmistakably Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, and the debate around their respective talents became so tediously rooted in tribalism that it became worthless conversation.
Wondering who could be the best player in the world is a novelty.
Salah isn’t as fashionable as he was a few months ago and Benzema is unlikely to get too many votes among Premier League watchers.
So, in a World Cup year, why not claim the England captain?
Just four months ago, Harry Kane was at rock bottom, suffering from a lack of confidence after being denied a move to Manchester City and the fallout from a disastrous couple of Tottenham Hotspur appointments. Few have excelled under Jose Mourinho or Nuno Espirito Santo.
Some even wondered if Kane was finished, if all those injuries and rushed returns to the starting lineup had finally taken their toll. It always happens with Kane.
His unusual style of play, his clumsy gait, does not meet our expectations of an elite athlete, leaving the impression that he does not belong; that it will soon fade away.
But if Kane has an outstanding attribute, it’s his ability to bounce back, to defy the odds, to come back to the top.
Every dry August brings pressure and Kane always rises to it. Each new Spurs implosion narrows Kane’s path to the top, but he’s still climbing there.
Kane has scored 233 goals in 368 games for Tottenham in all competitions. He’s fifth on the Premier League’s all-time goalscoring list and 30 behind second-placed Wayne Rooney, whom Kane will surely surpass over the next 18 months at Spurs.
He is the only player in the top five without a major trophy under his belt. Rooney, Andy Cole and Sergio Aguero all played on elite teams that won multiple honors, while even Alan Shearer took part in three title challenges, winning one.
This is often used as a way to criticize Kane, when the opposite is true: it shows how incredible his numbers are.
It makes perfect sense to argue that Kane would already be up front had he spent the last eight years at a super club (his goals-per-minute rate of 129 is better than Shearer’s 147).
So when counting who is the best player in the world right now, Kane shouldn’t lose points for playing outside of the top flight. He should earn them.
To do what he does at a club that fights for a Champions League spot most seasons is extraordinary.
And he’s at the peak of his powers right now, thanks in large part to the brilliant work of Antonio Conte.
Kane has a goal and an assist in his first 13 Premier League games of the season.
In the 17 since, starting with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool which was Conte’s fifth game in charge, he has scored 11 goals and seven assists.
One possible explanation is self-confidence, or rather belief in Tottenham.
Appointing a winner like Conte again gives clarity to Kane’s Spurs career, as well as transforming the club into one ready to step into the top flight; despite his public desire to leave, Kane would much rather win trophies at Tottenham.
But the transformation is as much tactical as anything else.
Conte’s methodology of fast, vertical football played largely in transition – and from a lower starting block than most – suits the speed of the player surrounding Kane, allowing him to build on a dash newly discovered playmaker.
Mourinho deserves some credit for releasing Kane into a deeper role last season, with Kane assisting 14 in the Premier League in 2020-21 using his exceptional passing range to hit runners Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura.
This has been taken up a notch under Conte thanks to the Italian’s greater level of detail in his attacking structures, which include diagonal switches to bring the full-backs forward – and Kane loves playing that pass.
Spurs continue to struggle at times, largely because such a low starting position can make it difficult to build and sustain meaningful attacks.
Indeed, in each of the last two matches, it took half-time recalls from Conte (to play long forward passes for the runners) to unlock a tasteless performance.
The addition of Dejan Kulusevski has also helped Kane’s production, as there are now two players running diagonally, outside to inside, for Kane to find as he drops into the n position. ° 10.
What’s more, Rodrigo Bentancur provided Spurs with an urgent pass through the lines, ensuring the ball reached Kane and his fellow forwards at pace – and with room to move.
This was what the plodding performances under Nuno lacked, when Kane was invariably either isolated up front or forced far too deep in search of the ball, only to find a whole opposition midfield and defense in front of him.
Under Conte, paradoxically, he has less freedom but therefore plays more freely.
The ultra-detailed positioning and movement work done on the training ground means Spurs players manipulate the opposition in vulnerable situations – and Kane no longer even needs to look before playing the pass.
Tottenham are a team that move in sync, and every part of the machine is matched to Kane’s abilities as a nine and a ten.
But, curiously, Conte has recently declared his desire to sign a new No.10 (Christian Eriksen would be ideal) in order to add variety, while allowing Kane to stay closer to the goal.
It’s time for some of the burden to be taken off Kane’s shoulders.
If that were to happen, his goalscoring numbers would improve further. He might even start thinking about closing the gap with Shearer.
So, surely he could claim to be the best footballer in the world?