Gareth Southgate has learned not to exhaust Harry Kane for England

Think back to England’s World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia in 2018 and what comes to mind?

Kieran Trippier’s fifth-minute free-kick goal, certainly. At that moment, anything felt possible for Gareth Southgate’s England team in Russia. Beyond that, we probably remember only disappointment.

But Southgate and his staff have been going back over the details and one undeniable fact is that it was Harry Kane’s least effective game of the finals.

England's 2018 semi-final defeat was Harry Kane's least effective game of the World Cup

England’s 2018 semi-final defeat was Harry Kane’s least effective game of the World Cup

Kane was unable to influence things that evening in Moscow as England crashed out

Kane was unable to influence things that evening in Moscow as England crashed out

Kane was unable to influence things that evening in Moscow as England crashed out

Kane, the England captain, won the Golden Boot in Russia. He scored six goals. But Kane looked shattered that night in Moscow and when the England backroom team look back now there is an acceptance he could have been better managed throughout the tournament.

It is a lesson that has been learned. Over the course of the European Championship that begins for England with a game against Croatia in forecast 80°F (27°C) heat at Wembley on Sunday, Kane will be rested whenever possible.

He will start the three group games, of course, but will only be used for the full 90 minutes when absolutely necessary.

Southgate said on Tuesday night: ‘In terms of players playing all seven matches, we are going to need and will use the squad. There is no doubt about that.

‘It’s always a challenge. It’s likely to be more of a challenge in this tournament than any tournament previously.’

In Russia, Kane was able to sit out the third group game against Belgium because — strangely — it did not matter greatly whether they won or lost.

Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia but he played almost every minute during the campaign

Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia but he played almost every minute during the campaign

Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia but he played almost every minute during the campaign

Beyond that, he played every minute of the 120 needed to beat Colombia in a penalty shootout in the first knockout round and then the full 90 minutes in a quarter-final against Sweden that England comfortably led 2-0 from the 58th minute onwards.

In an interview at the weekend, Southgate’s assistant and former Chelsea coach Steve Holland revealed that the England staff have examined Kane’s numbers against the way that 2018 winners France managed their players through the tournament. 

Their forward Antoine Griezmann, for example, did not play a single 90-minute match until the final against Croatia that France won 4-2. Prior to that he had been regularly taken off at any point from the 65th minute onwards.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course. Kane was England’s most important player in 2018, just as he is now.

But now he is three years older, has suffered with his troublesome ankles on and off during the Premier League season and — like everybody else — comes flying into this tournament on the back of virtually no rest because of the strange nature of the Covid-shaped 2020-21 campaign.

Southgate believes Kane can now see beyond his own numbers in a tournament such as this

Southgate believes Kane can now see beyond his own numbers in a tournament such as this

Southgate believes Kane can now see beyond his own numbers in a tournament such as this

Kane will want to play every minute, of that there is no doubt. The good news for Southgate is that he does have alternatives available. 

It remains a matter of regret that Leicester’s Jamie Vardy does not make himself available for England these days. What an impact off the bench he could have made this summer.

But Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin has shown himself to be capable at this level, having improved greatly under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti last season.

Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling can also play through the middle if required. Equally as important as how much Kane plays this summer will be exactly how he is encouraged to play.

At Tottenham under Jose Mourinho last season, the 27–year-old was encouraged to drop deeper to link play.

Kane will want to play every minute but Gareth Southgate does have alternatives available

Kane will want to play every minute but Gareth Southgate does have alternatives available

Kane will want to play every minute but Gareth Southgate does have alternatives available

That can cost a centre forward energy. Kane is good at it as he can pass the ball short and long. But there will not be as much demand for him to do this for a national team not short of playmakers and safe-breakers. 

This is a young England squad but Southgate believes that doesn’t equal immaturity, quite the opposite. He also believes Kane is now at the stage of his career where he sees beyond his own numbers in a tournament such as this.

‘I think his focus is on the team,’ said Southgate. ‘I think he is very clear on that. The individual awards and achievements are of course a very special thing and have been very richly deserved.

‘But he is at that moment of his journey with us when you forget about the number of caps and goals and you are thinking about the team having success.

‘If the team have success and progress there is more chance he will hit those numbers anyway as he will have more games to play and more opportunity.’

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