If you were to put yourself in Roy Hodgson’s shoes, you might think the form of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy has been a Godsend — but then you would remember the Wayne Rooney conundrum.
Kane won the Premier League’s Golden Boot with 25 goals, and Vardy was only one behind on 24, and the two of them are not only bang in form but champing at the bit to start for England at Euro 2016.
So where does that leave Rooney, England’s captain and all-time leading scorer with 52 goals? The striker has had to play in a deeper midfield role at Manchester United this season, and even though it is not his preferred or best position, it looks like he will have to do the same for his country.
With only eight goals in the Premier League, he is way behind the other two in terms of goalscoring form, and has neither the blistering pace of Vardy or the all-round centre-forward play of Kane, who has emerged as the obvious choice to lead the line for England.
The Tottenham striker, 22, only became a Premier League regular just over 18 months ago, but his first two seasons have seen him become one of the most dynamic goalscorers in European football.
His breakthrough season brought 32 goals from 56 games for club and country, a total he matched when he scored against in England’s friendly win over Turkey. That was his 60th game of a season that put a different kind of pressure on the youngster.
He barely had a break last summer, playing all three games for England in the European U21 championship in the Czech Republic, and the effects showed when he started the season with an eight-game barren spell for Spurs, despite scoring twice for England in that period.
It led to accusations from cynics that he was a ‘one-season’ wonder, but such fears were shortlived, as he started to show his qualities again and bang in the goals that led Spurs on a title-challenge with Vardy’s Leicester that only fell away in the final weeks of the season.
Spurs looked shot in those final games, especially the 5-1 thrashing at relegated Newcastle on the final day that cost them second place, but Kane says he — and his young Tottenham team-mates Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Danny Rose — are not feeling tired.
Quite the opposite, in fact, as they look forward to their first big international tournament.
“I look after my body, which is important, and I feel good, fit and raring to go,” he said. “For a lot of us, it’s our first big tournament and we’re all feeling good. Nobody has complained about feeling tired.”
Kane says the secret is hard work during the season and proper recovery time in between.
“After the U21 tournament I had a few weeks off and refreshed myself, gave myself time to reflect on my first big season. I didn’t feel tired at all when the season started, but I just went through one of those phases when the goals weren’t going in. As a striker you go through spells where you are on fire and everything you touch goes in, and then there are times when nothing goes your way.
“I’ve always been very focused on training hard and working hard, knowing the goals would come.”
It must have hurt when people said he would struggle for goals, though. “There were a few people saying I was a one-season wonder, but if anything that just put fire in my belly, made me want to prove them wrong. I’ve done that now, but it doesn’t stop here for me. I won’t think ‘that’s me done, I’m happy where I am.’ I want to get better.”
He has no regrets about playing in the U21 tournament, even though Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino would have preferred his young tyro to have a summer off.
“I made it clear all along that I wanted to go to the U21s and it was a great experience for me. It didn’t go as well as we’d hoped for as a team, but it was a learning experience, and hopefully I can take that into the European Championship this summer. I definitely think it is has helped me advance in international football.”
He admits he has to pinch himself to believe how quickly he has advanced, but added: “I always believed in myself since I started out so I’m not that surprised. Hard work and determination have got me where I am now.”
He has noticed changes, though, both on and off the pitch.
“Defenders are more wary of me now and mark me tighter when we are playing so I’ve had to adjust to that. I get more attention away from football, too especially around the area where I live, if I’m out walking the dogs or having a meal for instance. But it’s all part of it and I’m happy to socialise with the fans.”
And he is very happy having his Tottenham team-mates in the England set-up. “It’s very good and makes you feel at home. We are used to each other and know each other inside out when we play and train. It always helps.”
One special relationship on the pitch is with Alli, which looks telepathic at times as they have created goals for each other this season. The youngster arrived from Mk Dons last summer and immediately adapted to the Premier League and international scene.
“I think we clicked straightaway,” said Kane. “We both understand each other’s games. Obviously he’s a great player, he’s been playing as a number 10 so it’s important we have that understanding and that has been shown in the number of assists he has made for me.”
Back to the Rooney question. With Kane and Vardy taking the striking spots, and Alli showing his value as a number 10, where does that leave the England captain? Kane has no doubts about him.
“He’s an incredible talent, a world-class player, and he’s worked very hard to get where he is. It’s great to train with him, learn from him and be able to talk to him. He’s an all-round top player and top man. Hopefully, he will score a lot more goals for England.”
And Kane wants to emulate him.
“I look at the experience of Wayne Rooney, who has carried so much responsibility for club and country over the years, keeping in good shape. I do my best in training, and if called upon I always feel I can do my best for club or country.
“I am really looking forward to the Euros.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved