Harry Kane's England role is no longer about goals but it could still be the key for Gareth Southgate at Euro 2020

With two goals in 10 games for England, Harry Kane's importance appears diminished but perhaps this new role in the team could be crucial for Gareth Southgate's system

England captain Harry Kane
Image: England captain Harry Kane finds his role under scrutiny after a quiet game against Croatia but could it be understood?

Two games into the World Cup in 2018, Harry Kane had scored five goals and picked up the man of the match award in both games. It transpired that he could have packed his bags and taken the next flight out of Russia and still won the Golden Boot as top scorer.

Three years on and England are celebrating their first-ever win in the opening game of a European Championships, after doing what they failed to do in Moscow by beating Croatia. But the acclaim is heading in the direction of everyone other than the England captain.

There can be no denying that Kane was quiet on Sunday. That is the view here and on the continent - La Gazzetta dello Sport claiming that he was not at his usual standard. One attempt and 26 touches - the fewest of any England starter - supports that argument.

There was even a strange passage of play in the second half when Kane seemed set to shoot from the edge of the box only to go for an ambitious pass instead. In that moment, the striker sometimes styled as selfish seemed set on a very different role.

As Jamie Carragher puts it, Kane wants to be Teddy Sheringham not Alan Shearer. He has scored only twice in 10 England games.

Perhaps it is unfashionable to take the view that Gareth Southgate knows best, particularly in the frenzied atmosphere that surrounds a major tournament, when the scrutiny is at its height. But it might just be true to say that Kane understands his role in this team.

Harry Kane's stats for England against Croatia
Image: Harry Kane's stats for England against Croatia were not impressive

He is a formidable scorer, of course. But he will also be acutely aware that it has brought him no trophies. There are enough people keen to remind him of that. Kane topped the Premier League goals and assists charts in a Tottenham team that has just finished seventh.

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Even in claiming that Golden Boot in Russia, he would have watched on as Olivier Giroud lifted the World Cup aloft. The Frenchman did not score once in seven games. Didier Deschamps described the forward's role in the team's triumph as crucial, nevertheless.

Gary Lineker recently suggested that strikers have a different mentality because they have their own league table for goals. It reveals the psyche of the world's best in that position.

And yet, there is a still a hint of absurdity to it all. When football is described as a team game, that is not some garbled management-speak but a literal truth. A player's individual scoring record is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The objective is to win.

Kane helped England do that at Wembley and it did not even require one of his 26 touches to make it happen. Watch the goal again, the game's decisive moment. It was the awareness of the skipper, his movement away from goal, that helped facilitate what followed.

Harry Kane's unseen role in England's goal against Croatia at Wembley in Euro 2020
Image: Kane moved wide to open up the space for Kalvin Phillips to move into

Phil Foden had already moved deep to create the space for Kalvin Phillips to exploit. The midfielder did so brilliantly, running at the Croatia defence. Even so, had Kane stayed in the centre-forward position for the pass, the chance would not have come.

Instead, he drifted wide. Not only did that encourage Phillips to run inside but it lured Domagoj Vida away. That allowed Sterling to run into the zone that the Croatia centre-back would have occupied. It was the goal that England had been trying to score all afternoon.

Harry Kane's role in England's goal against Croatia at Wembley in Euro 2020
Image: Kane's movements left the path clear for Phillips to find Raheem Sterling

It was a goal that would not have come had Southgate and Kane taken the advice being hurled at the player to stay around the penalty box and wait for the chances. Robert Lewandowski did that against Slovakia and found himself closely marked. Poland lost.

This England team have other ways of scoring goals, that much is apparent already. Kane had one shot against Croatia but the team had eight. The first of which came inside five minutes when Sterling cut inside to feed the ball to Foden. Again, Kane created the space.

His decision to vacate that position is usually framed as a desire to drop deep into a playmaking role but that was not what happened in either of these instances. For England's best two chances of the match, he was moving wide, creating space for others.

Sterling can take advantage of that, Marcus Rashford too. There is Jadon Sancho, scorer of 13 goals in his last 21 games for Borussia Dortmund. The wide forwards are a strength for England. Southgate knows that putting the focus on one man would be a mistake.

There will be chances for Kane. He had a one-on-one against Austria in his previous game. There will be examples of his creativity in possession too. It was his penetrative pass that started the move for Bukayo Saka's winning goal in Middlesbrough.

But there will also be times when his job is to distract defenders and drag them where they do not want to be. If that is the difference between England falling short and finding a way to win a tournament, it is a sacrifice that Harry Kane should be glad to make.

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