They can be both unofficial and artificial, invented awards for individuals in a team sport, granted midway through a season on the perhaps flimsy premise of the end of a calendar year. Yet Harry Kane can be anointed the Premier League’s player of 2017. He was not a title winner this past May and almost certainly will not be this May, either. He did not win the PFA player or Premier League player of the year prizes last season, when N’Golo Kante was recognised, and probably will not this season, unless he or Mohamed Salah can stop a Manchester City player from making off with the silverware.
But in many ways 2017 has been Kane’s year, on an English and an international stage. He has beaten Alan Shearer’s divisional record of 36 goals in a calendar year. His total of 39 included six league hat tricks. By way of comparison, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette, Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa, Salah, Roberto Firmino and Wayne Rooney mustered five league hat tricks between them in the same time, and one of those was scored in Spain.
Kane has joined the bracket of the most potent finishers in the major leagues: his total of 56 goals for club and country means he ends 2017 as the most potent player in the top five leagues, topping a distinguished shortlist that includes Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski. Not since David Villa in 2009 has anyone else outscored both Messi and Ronaldo over a calendar year. Little wonder that Mauricio Pochettino, after ruling the game’s dominant duo are not centre-forwards, asked whether there is a better striker in the world.
While the Tottenham fans ironically chorus that he is just a “one-season wonder,” a man into his fourth consecutive campaign of goal plundering has taken his game to another stage. Kane scored 27 times in 2016, the kind of return others might envy, especially in an injury-interrupted year. He more than doubled that in 2017. A typically barren August apart, he has been unremittingly prolific and consistent.
There is a temptation to dismiss anyone who scores so frequently as a flat-track bully, and certainly a hat-trick specialist has become a master of momentum. It nevertheless feels misguided in Kane’s case: 28 of his goals since May 18 have come away from home. It points to a greater counterattacking threat that, in turn, reflects both fitness — and he revealed in October that his body fat has halved from 18 to 10 percent in three years — and the timing and precision of his runs.
And, above all, the number of them. Kane is a product of persistence. There is a machine-like element to his excellence. Repetition is part of his game. He keeps on shooting. If he scores more goals than everyone else, it is because he has more shots. He takes aim with his left foot and his right, in open play and from set pieces, from inside the box and outside. According to WhoScored.com figures, he averages 1.6 shots per game with his left foot, which is notable because he is right-footed. He averages 2.4 per match from outside the box, which is significant because he doubles up as Spurs’ penalty-box poacher. He has 1.3 per game from set pieces, often the preserve of a technician or flair player.
The end result is that, in the Premier League this season, he has had 41 more attempts than Salah, the next most frequent shooter. It is one reason he has hit the woodwork twice as often as anyone else. In 2015-16, he had 40 more attempts than Aguero, the next busiest. It means his conversion rate this year is substantially lower than those of Morata, Aguero and Raheem Sterling. But it also means no one works goalkeepers more; no one gives himself a better chance of benefiting if they err.
It is a sign of a dedication to his profession. Pochettino wrote in “Brave New World” that Kane spends his weeks at his house near Tottenham’s training ground, rather than the one in Essex, to reduce travelling time and allow him to be the first arrival and last departure every day. It is part of an attention to detail. The reason, perhaps, that Kane was initially overlooked and underrated was because he had no outstanding attribute. He has compensated by improving each facet of his game.
The most spectacular change is reflected on the scoresheet. He has more goals in 2017 than Burnley, who sit seventh in the division. His Champions League goals were worth four points, which, to put it another way, is as many as 2016-17 quarterfinalists Borussia Dortmund and Monaco mustered between them this campaign.
Beyond the numbers — and 56 goals in 52 games is an extraordinary return — the most remarkable element is what Kane has done to normalise the process of scoring. It is routine, mundane even. He has reached that stage when it becomes news that he did not score rather than that he did. He is the everyman of goal scoring, shorn of the stardust Ronaldo and Messi possess, but, like them, he has redefined expectations with his relentlessness. Once forwards were lauded if they averaged a goal every other game. Now he, like they, threatens to average one per game. In 2017, he has bettered that with a return of 1.08 per match. In many respects, it has been an annus mirabilis. Unless, of course, he tops it in 2018.