Almost two weeks ago, Harry Kane scored a goal in a soccer match.
This information should not be surprising to any sports fan, even those who don’t follow soccer closely. Kane has racked up goals at a historic rate since becoming a Tottenham Hotspur regular in 2014.
But this one, a 48-yard lofter above the head of Juventus keeper (and former Gunner), Wojciech Szczesny, in the 93rd minute, was pretty insane. The game-winning shot has been viewed close to 2.9 million times on Kane’s Instagram page and hailed by the striker as “among one of my best”, quite an accomplishment when looking at the soon to be 26 year-olds stunning record as Tottenham’s franchise leader in goals scored in European competitions.
For so long, Tottenham Hotspur, and Kane to a lesser degree have been bashed by critics, labeled as “bottlers” and “Spursy”  for their unique ability to throw away leads in their most important matches. On Sunday, Spurs built off the momentum gained from last year’s Champions League heroics against City and Ajax, in pulling off a most dramatic comeback against, on paper, an Italian side worthy of challenging for the European crown.
It was a fantastic win for Mauricio Pochettino’s club. 17-year old Troy Parrott impressed in the 1st half, looking capable of filling Fernando Llorente role as a backup striker. Club record signing Tanguy NDombele’s  pass, only two minutes after entering the pitch, netted a goal for an energetic and explosive Lucas Moura. And, most importantly, Harry Kane’s fully-healed ankle hit a walk-off.
Kane’s goal was majestic. It was absolutely fantastic. Glorious. A strike that will be etched in Spurs lore for a long time.
And, ultimately, it meant nothing.
Because it was a July pre-season match in the International Champions Cup.
As his manager said after the game, “It wasn’t the priority to win the game, but to compete in our best way, and in the end to win, is always better than not winning.”
Beautifully spoken, Mauricio. And true. Victory in the preseason doesn’t guarantee anything in the real competition. And for a fanbase starving for their first trophy in 11 years, fooling them twice is going to be quite difficult.
It isn’t hard to forget the last time Spurs impressed in preseason. Just one year ago, Tottenham Hotspur was named winners of this very summer tournament, victories over Roma and AC Milan sandwiched a PK loss to Barca. I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen a picture of a trophy from this championship. Maybe there isn’t one.
Trivia question: Can you name the leading scorer on this “title-winning team”?
I won’t hold my breath.
If you guessed Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, I’m so sorry for you. Because to guess correctly, you must be Nkoudou himself and there’s no way you have enjoyed the sarcasm. If you forgot about Nkoudou’s existence, you could be forgiven. GKN’s 2 goals, an equalizer and a winner in consecutive matches, seemed to point to a young player finally living up to expectations. The Sun’s headline from the match ran, “Kou, Calm and Collected.”
Nkoudou’s quality preseason performance was a sign that the then-24-year-old Frenchman could finally contribute something to the squad. Supporters couldn’t have been more wrong.
Since his signing in 2016, Nkoudou has been inconsistent on the pitch and training ground leaving Pochettino uncertain in what he can reliably bring to the table.
In fact, Nkoudo’s performance in preseason meant so little that his manager rarely even made the substitute list the whole season. Only with half of the attacking players dead before a January 19th matchup against Fulham did GKN get an opportunity. With Tottenham missing Kane, Sissoko, Son, Moura, and Victor Wanyama, Nkoudou finally subbed on in the 86th minute, replacing an injured Dele Alli. He entered a whole 7 minutes after Eric Dier, who was just coming back from an emergency appendix surgery. To summarize, GKN is so bad that for him to see the field it not only took every starting-caliber attacking player to be severely injured or playing in an overseas tournament, but his teammate’s hamstring had to complete pop off his leg. And he was still second-choice to a player who literally had organs bursting in his torso just a month prior!
To witness Nkoudou in a meaningful game was so absolutely shocking that when he subbed on Gregg Bakowski of The Guardian wrote, “Nkoudou is on in place of Alli. I believe he last played for Spurs in 1897.”
Despite all this, it was GKN’s cross to Harry Winks that led to a go-ahead goal in stoppage time, securing the 2-1 win over a devastated Claudio Ranieri. After the match, to celebrate Nkoudou hit publish on his first tweet since August 2018:
What a flex.
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou never saw another minute of Premier League action. Despite Tottenham in desperate need of attacking players, he was sent on loan to Monaco on January 31st. Exiled from North London.
So why this little anecdote about a meaningless player? Well, I guess it is a warning. That pre-season performance means nothing. In fact, in writing this piece, I searched Google and Youtube for hours looking at pieces like Connor Fleming’s “The Greatest Preseason Moments Ever on American Soil” for The18. On Fleming’s list, only one moment involves the actual playing of the sport <– Mariano Diaz’s rocket for Real Madrid in Michigan’s famous Big House stadium in 2016. 
In fact, it is really hard consistency in any data between preseason success and regular-season success in ANY sport. Take a gander at this ugly chart I’ve compiled below. For clarity, a team listed in bold had the best preseason record AND won their domestic league (or Champions League) that same year.
As the chart suggests, preseason performance rarely means anything in relation to the actual grind of real competition. All of the teams that are listed in bold were clear-cut favorites to win their league that season, outside of the Seattle Seahawks (who still were coming off a second-round playoff loss the year before and had the 3rd favorite odds to win the championship entering the season). The funny thing is that it would actually be more shocking if a team besides Juve, PSG, Barca, or Real won their respective leagues.
Harry Kane is not Georges-Kevin Nkoudo.
(What a dumb sentence).
It wouldn’t be that out of line to think that this goal might hint at something special. There are times in sports that seem to suggest something greater is on the horizon for a player or a team. They are those plays when things just seem to work out, an inexplicable moment that transcends the actual game. Coaches, in an attempt to explain an unlikely victory or event, regularly say the (insert sporting object here) bounced our way today or the (insert sport name here) gods were on our side today.
While the chart provided above helps demonstrate the randomness of preseason, it doesn’t give the full picture on how to predict teams future success. By looking at the previous season standings, we can actually start to make an educated guess. In looking at all competition since 2000 in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue One, NFL, NBA, and MLB, only six 
teams have won a title just a year after a poor season (poor = did not qualify for European competition or American playoffs). Rarely do teams that vastly underperform just make a crazy jump the next season.
It’s no secret that some teams that hang around in the “contender” role for several years, eventually have a decent shot of breaking through, though many fans hate the idea of being in this position. There are countless examples of American sports teams stuck in this purgatory. Highly successful with nothing to show for it. NFL fans in Buffalo, New York still miserably commiserate over their four (!!!) straight Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.  The NBA had tons of also-rans  during the superstar reigns of Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron, and Curry. 
Hell, hoops fans just watched the NBA’s Toronto Raptors take a humongous gamble this past offseason to get out of the good-but-not-great-hell zone. Despite coming off a franchise-record 57 wins and the team’s only first-place regular-season finish in history, the 2017-2018 Raptors were eliminated in the playoffs, for the 3rd year in a row, to a team led by LeBron James. Instead of playing it safe by adding some auxiliary pieces, GM Masai Ujiri decided to make some drastic moves. After the season, the Raptors fired coach of the year, Dwane Casey, and traded All-Star starter, DeMar DeRozen, arguably the best player in franchise history. They promoted an assistant coach with zero head coaching experience and acquired an immensely talented player who basically sat out of the entire 2017-18 season.
The gamble worked. Kawhi Leonard, Nick Nurse, and the Toronto Raptors won the cities first NBA championship in 2019.
Surprisingly, we often look back on these runner-up teams and simplify them as unsuccessful losers. Fair or unfair, it seems true that if you don’t eventually earn the silverware, most history books forgot about how close you came. The trouble with being so close is that you lose sight of how bad things were or could be. Those years of frustrating, almost there, so close Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan-led squads must feel like a lifetime ago for Ipswich Town and Newcastle United fans, huh? 
The Pochettino-era Spurs might be on their way to joining those teams.
In the football world though, one that doesn’t hinge on draft picks or free agency having to rescue a franchise, the transfer market offers an easier avenue to “make the leap”.  This is optimistic news for Tottenham, who since Pochettino’s appointment in 2014 have finished 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Only Manchester City have qualified for European competition as consistently as Spurs in the last half-decade, albeit with much more celebratory results domestically. If rumors are true, Daniel Levy will be gifting his manager the greatest influx of talent North London has seen since…ever? If Spurs can snatch NDombele, Lo Celso, and Sessegnon without losing the services of Eriksen, Rose, and Alderweireld, this is a team that can absolutely be in the mix. If they can steal Gareth Bale or Paulo Dybala, this team can win the double.
But even if all of those names listed above are on the Tottenham team sheet next season, the teams best addition might actually be one of their own: Mr. Harry Kane.
Remember in Game of Thrones when Jon Snow had just been resurrected by magic after being stabbed to death by his Night’s Watch bros? After Jon wakes up and he executes the mutinous Crows responsible, he is then immediately asked by Sansa to reclaim their family home, Winterfell, from the traitorous Ramsay Bolton. This is a big ask. Since season 1, Jon literally has been involved in more exhausting shit than anyone on the entire show. The dude traveled hundreds of miles into the icy North, climbed the Wall with his red-headed friends while playing turncoat, was shot by his girlfriend several times with arrows, single-handedly held off an army with thousands of wildlings and giants, was elected to the highest government position in his order, saved hundreds of people from a terribly cold zombie fate, and suffered multiple stab wounds from his sworn brothers. As Snow explained to his sister before being dragged into the Battle of the Bastards, “I’m tired of fighting. It’s all I’ve done…I fought and I lost.” 
If there is a Premier League equivalent to Jon Snow, it’s London’s own King in the North.
Since Kane made his breakthrough with Tottenham in 2014-2015, he has made 227 appearances in Premier League, European, FA Cup, and League Cup matches. He was runner-up in goals scored to Sergio Aguero in 2015, before winning the award back to back. Even when his run ended to Mo Salah in 2018, his 30 goals were more than any previous season. Even Kane’s disappointing goal total of 17 this past season, after missing 17 games with injury, was 6th highest in the league and came off the back of earning the Golden Boot at the World Cup while captaining England to its best result in 28 years.
You wouldn’t be far off for suggesting that Harry’s ankles might eventually fall off. This particularly important body part for footballers has kept Kane out of 34 matches since 2016. Over the last three seasons, Harry has won the hearts of tough guys everywhere by grinding in the training room to get back on the pitch. But each time Kane returned, just like Jon Snow, he seems to be a lesser version of himself. Take a look at the data  since his March 11th ankle injury:
It was clear to anyone watching the Champions League or the Nations League semi that Kane wasn’t the Prince That Was Promised. The man gave everything he had for five seasons straight and in the most important moments, he was just…dead on his legs. As brutal as having to listen to Liverpool fans gloat will be, I’m not even the slightest bit mad with Harry. According to The Sun, Harry was using an anti-gravity NASA-engineered treadmill that cost him about 35K to use (ok, he didn’t have to pay for it himself but it does sound more dramatic!) to get back for the Liverpool and Netherlands games. Harry was willing to run on the moon for his club and country. And couldn’t. Heartbreaking stuff.
The thing that should have the rest of the soccer world nervous is that Kane (and to an extent his Tottenham teammates) have finally gotten an extended break from competitive matches. Of Tottenham’s most heavily-used player’s in 2018-2019, twelve participated in the World Cup the summer before,  while nine of them featured in the tournaments final weekend. The Premier League season started less than a month later.
Oh and I almost forgot – Daniel Levy decided not to spend a single penny into improving the squad in TWO transfer windows.
There is no doubt that Manchester City and Liverpool have excellent football teams. The amount of talent within each of the squads is ridiculous, something that hasn’t been seen to this point in the Premier League-era. Spurs aren’t that far behind with their starting 11. It’s their depth that needs to improve. If there is a glaring weakness, it is at fullback and backup striker, areas that must be invested in to compete. Pochettino is notorious for his grueling training sessions and with so little players available in the rotation, you can’t expect peak performance from your regulars each match. But an in-form Kane, free from injury and after an extensive break, could prove to be just the player Spurs need to actually contend this season.
Harry himself knows how important the break from footy was for the squad. “We’ve had the summer to reflect and move on. I think it is important, not just for me but the lads who have had tough years, to refresh as much as possible with their mind and their body. We go into every season trying to win, but we haven’t done so yet. It’s down to us, there’s no excuses, there’s nothing we can say. As a team we need to do better in the big games and, when we get opportunities, like we did last year, we have to take them. It starts now, the hard work, determination and focus for a big season and hopefully we can win that trophy.”
The Kane that tore apart the Premier League for years wasn’t on the squad sheet last season. If Tottenham wants to challenge City and Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what players they bring in before the window closes. The biggest transfer they could pull off would be swapping last seasons Harry Kane for the old one.
How much would the old Kane have improved last seasons team? Let’s try and quantify it.
Statistically, the entire season was a down year for Spurs offense. Their total goals scored, 64, was ten less than the previous season. In fact, it was their lowest total since 2014-2015.
|Year||Goals||Rank in PL||Shots PG||Rank in PL||Shots OT PG||Rank in PL|
While these certainly aren’t terrible numbers, teams need to be at their absolute best to finish at the top of the table, especially with juggernauts like City in the league. But it is quite obvious that there has been a dropoff since the end of the 2017 season.
That dropoff is directly linked with Kane’s health. In the chart below, you can see how historic Kane’s rate was for two years – .95 goals per 90 minutes played. In 2018-19, that number dropped to .6. Yikes.
But the real issue isn’t that the goals weren’t finding the net, it was that for some reason Harry stopped shooting as much. In 17-18, his shots per 90 were 5.32 with an XG of 26.86. It was a historic season for the striker, his shot rate just below peak-Ronaldo and Messi range. In the 18-19 campaign, it dropped to 3.77 shots per 90 with an XG of 16.12. Pretty average.
The 2018-19 squad lost 13 games and drew twice. Below are the games and the situations:
|Healthy Kane||Post-injury Kane||DNP Kane|
Manchester City 1-0
|Manchester CIty 1-0
West Ham 1-0
Now let’s imagine that we have Harry Kane of the previous three seasons and he isn’t recovering or playing hurt the majority of the season. With his goal total down thirteen from the previous season, let’s be generous and say a fully healthy Kane gets 7 more – bringing his total up to 24, a decent but not elite number.
If we change  a few losses to draws (Watford, Burnley, Southampton), a draw to win (Arsenal), and assume that his healthy presence impacts some matches down the stretch (West Ham, Bournemouth, Everton), Spurs domestic season looks a lot better. In this scenario (not a far fetched one based on his career workload), Tottenham add 9 points to their total, finishing 3rd with 80. Nowhere near enough to challenge Liverpool or City but a lot nonetheless.
In order to keep up with the high-powered offenses of Liverpool and City, Kane can’t afford to start off slow or have another leg issue. Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min proved capable backups at times last season but moving them in the striker role limits their wide range of skills.
Don’t get things twisted. For Spurs to win the league, it is going to be a mountainous task, a Free Solo-esque challenge. And it’s not that outlandish to think that all of the teams top offensive players can improve on last seasons performances. Harry Winks struggled with injury recovery, Christian Eriksen seemed distracted by transfer rumors, Dele Alli took a step back in goal scoring and playmaking, Son Heung-Min seemed like he was required to fly to South Korea for a tournament every other weekend, and Fernando Llorente provided very little in the box.  It will make improvements from each of these players (and Troy Parrott stepping into the backup role) to make the leap.
Maybe NDombele will help open things up for Spurs attack. His passing was impressive against Juventus and his dribbling will clear lanes for more runs and shot opportunities, skills that he shares with the departed Moussa Dembele who helped fuel a league-leading offense in 2016-2017. If you want the best possible analysis on how Spurs offensive pieces can dominate a defense by attacking vertically, check out this Statsbomb article in which their philosophy is compared to an NFL spread offense.
But more likely, the season won’t depend on the new fella from France but on the local lad who grew up in Chingford.
Kane is the finisher. He is the one this team was built around. He is the superstar. He is the only one who can push this team to the next level that all of North London is starving for.
If not, Arsenal fans will have a lot to say about the man who peaked at 25. Sure, Spurs fans will have the International Champions Cup, the Golden Boots, the memories of being Champions League and Premier League runner-ups, all those oh-so-close moments. Those will have to live in their heads and hearts. You can’t put them in a trophy cabinet.
Ultimately, that game-winning prayer of a goal in Singapore doesn’t predict much. It’s just a brief moment of joy during this fantastic Pochettino-era run. It might just be leading to another season of disappointment.
But the 2018-19 Harry Kane doesn’t score that. Maybe that means nothing.
Or maybe it means everything.
 For those unfamiliar, “Spursy” is the inevitable botching of a match, often in embarrassing fashion, that seems to constantly occur to Tottenham sides. When United found themselves down 3-0 to Spurs at halftime, Sir Alex kept his pep talk simple. “Lads, it’s Tottenham”. United won 5-3. [Back]
 My favorite Harry Potter film has always been Goblet of Fire. While the Triwizard Tournament definitely brings some top notch action sequences and we get our first look of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the most memorable scene to me has always been the Yule Ball. The Yule Ball is the wizarding world’s version of prom. All the little kiddos from the different magical schools attend, dress up in their fancy robes, and prepare to awkwardly slow dance the night away to some lame vampire rock band in which the lead singer is clearly abusing a variety of hard narcotics (I’m disappointed in whoever hired this group. I blame Professor Flitwick). As with any school dance, the buildup has a lot of drama. Especially with Ron. First of all, I need to be clear that Ron is an absolute dick this whole movie. He deserves everything that comes to him in this scene. It totally sucks that you have lame dress robes, dude, but it doesn’t excuse you from acting like a jerk to Hermoine, a girl who has saved your ass over and over again since the first day of school. Ron asks Hermoine to the dance so condescendingly that she runs out of the Great Hall in tears. Dope Ron doesn’t even realize that she already has a date – with the most famous Quidditch star on the goddamn planet, Victor Krum!! Hermoine is such a sweetheart that even after Ron treats her like absolute garbage, she goes out of her way to not tell them she is going with the wizarding version of Messi, just to spare him the embarrassment! (Side note: WTF is Harry’s deal? Harry just stands there watching, complicit in his friends trash behaviour. Little things like this really make me question Harry as the star of this series. Neville would never treat women like this. Toxic masculinity runs rampant at Hogwarts. Maybe Lucius Malfoy was right. #DumbledoreOut)When the ball begins, there is this amazing moment when Harry and Ron are about to walk into the dance with their dates (Ron only has a date because Harry forced Pavarti Patil’s hand with a 2 for 1 deal to bring her sister for his buddy. Solid negotiating here. I wish JK included the dialogue of this conversation so I could send it over to Daniel Levy for pointers on acquiring those Sessegnon brothers). All of a sudden, Ron stops, and looks up the stairwell. Out steps Hermoine. Radiant. Smashing. Beautiful.Ron looks at her like he is seeing color for the first time. He knows that she is perfect, she is absolutely the one for him. As she descends the stairs, you see his heart in his throat. It has just been a couple seconds but he is 100% helpless in his love. Deep in his heart, he knows he doesn’t deserve to even stand on the same planet as her.So, clearly:Ron Weasley = Me
Hermione Granger = Tanguy NDombele two minutes into his Spurs debut [Back]
 Spurs haven’t won a proper title since the 2008 League Cup. They last won the FA Cup in 1991 and the UEFA Cup (predecessor to Europa League) in 1983-84. But fans won’t really feel like this club has taken the next step until they top the league table or lift – and the former hasn’t happened since 1961, the latter 1962. They closest they have come to conquering England was as runner-ups in 62-63 and 2016-2017 [Back]
 My favorite line in response to the game winner came from Spurs fansite, Cartilage Free Captain: GKN’s goal nicely disguised the fact that he still doesn’t look like he has any idea how to football. [Back]
 I guess he is technically on the team for the 2019-2020 season but I would put a lot of money on his not being a part of the roster when deadline day passes. [Back]
 Among the other moments: Zlatan Ibrahimovic elbowing John Terry in the head during a 2015 match between PSG and Chelsea and Mario Balotelli in 2011, then playing for City, getting subbed off the pitch at the 30 minute mark for, as Fleming puts it, an unrivaled display of not giving a f*ck. [Back]
 Technically, Real Madrid won the Champions League this same season, after winning the ICC, albeit a smaller competition with only 8 teams. And Diaz barely contributed all season. Since 2016, he has appeared in only 21 games for Madrid. [Back]
 The Cleveland Browns are one of these four 2017 teams. Not only did they not make the postseason, they didn’t win a game all season. Undefeated in preseason, very much defeated in season. [Back]
 FC Nantes – Ligue 1 – 1999-2000 12th place -> 2000-2001 Champions Montpellier – Ligue 1 – 2011-2012 14th place -> 2012–2013 Champions Leicester City – EPL – 2014-2015 14th place -> 2015-2016 Champions MLB: Anaheim Angels – 2001 DNQ for playoffs -> 2002 Champions Houston Astros – 2016 DNQ for playoffs -> 2017 Champions NBA: Boston Celtics – 2006-2007 DNQ for playoffs -> 2007-2008 Champions (The Celtics majorly overhauled the team partnering up superstars Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce)
NFL Philadelphia Eagles – 2015-2016 DNQ for playoffs -> 2016-2017 Champions (HELL YEAH!) [Back]
 Talk about a tortured franchise. The BIlls have qualified for the playoffs once since 1999. They scored 3 points in their 2017 loss to the Jaguars. Things are so bad that fans literally jump off RVs and crash through wooden tables in the parking lot before the game for recreational fun. Go on Youtube and type in “Bills Mafia”. I dare you to not be entertained [Back]
 So many legacies have been altered by this stretch of dominance by a handful of basketball stars. Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and the dynamic duos of Payton/Kemp and Malone/Stockton could never get past Jordan. Iverson and Reggie Miller couldn’t get past the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Steve Nash-era Suns couldn’t get past the San Antonio Spurs. And the entire Eastern conference couldn’t get past LeBron, whose teams made NBA Finals appearances eight seasons in a row. [Back]
 There have only been 4 teams since 1991 that have won an unexpected NBA title: 2004 Detroit Pistons, 2008 Boston Celtics, 2011 Dallas Mavericks, and the 2019 Toronto Raptors. [Back]
 Ipswich Town finished 3rd in 1975, 1977,1980, and 2nd in 1981 and 1982. Newcastle finished 3rd in 1994, 2nd in 1996 and 1997. [Back]
 When I say “easier”, I’m assuming that your team isn’t being run by Daniel Levy. [Back]
 Where was Ghost, dude? You have a personal security system available to you at all times. SMH. [Back]
 Watch the whole scene, mainly to hear him say “I hung a boy younger than Bran”. It’s an all-time line: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5a7pbZuw1lA. Then listen to Binge Mode: GOT podcast to hear it a thousand more times. [Back]
 Shout out to James Gheerbrant for compiling this excellent info. And shout out to Nicholas Godden for posting it on Twitter so I don’t have to pay for a subscription to The Times. [Back]
 Kane, Dele, Dier, Eriksen, Lloris, Son, Rose, Davison Sanchez, Trippier, and Jan Vertonghen all suffered injuries during the season. Mousa Dembele was sold to the Chinese league in January. [Back]
 This hypothetical change doesn’t even include manipulating the team’s awful stretch of 4 losses and a draw when Kane returned early from his ankle injury. What a brutal month. [Back]
 The most impressive players on Spurs last season were Vertonghen, Moura, and Sissoko. Sissoko was a laughing stock in North London before the season. Things can change fast in life. [Back]