Euro 2020: Decision time looms for Gareth Southgate as star turn Harry Kane fluffs his lines for England

Three Lions manager faces big call over whether to stick or twist with his misfiring striker

Winning the World Cup’s Golden Boot is an achievement that commands immediate recognition. Or so it seemed until the Sweden striker Alexander Isak confessed on Friday that he had never heard of Gary Lineker. It transpired it was a worse day for England’s other Golden Boot winner.

As England needed a goal to beat the oldest rivals in the history of international football, Harry Kane was substituted against Scotland. The man Gareth Southgate kept on the field throughout the World Cup’s knockout stages was taken off in a second successive game.

If one of the enduring images of England’s ill-fated campaign in Euro 2016 was of Kane taking corners, perhaps their Euro 2020 will be remembered in part for the sight of their captain toiling, looking like a slow-motion version of himself.

A scorer of six goals in the World Cup has had six touches in the penalty area. A player who seemed hungry to get more involved when he dropped deeper to spray passes around for Tottenham Hotspur so far mustered a mere 19 touches on Friday. Kane was ubiquitous for Tottenham but has been rather anonymous for England.

It raises the question of whether England must think the unthinkable and drop the undroppable. Luke Shaw reacted to the stalemate with Scotland by saying: “For me, he is the best striker in the world.” There are a host of other candidates, from Robert Lewandowski downward, but Shaw’s statement felt more controversial than it would have been a week earlier.

Kane is coming off one of the great Premier League campaigns that ultimately achieved little. His return of 23 goals and 14 assists in a side that finished seventh showed he can be both scorer and creator. Thus far in Euro 2020, he has shown precious little sign of being either.

After he was removed for the closing minutes against Croatia, with England holding on to a narrow lead, there was the suggestion they had studied France’s successful World Cup and noted that Antoine Griezmann was replaced in each group game to keep him fresher.

England 0 Scotland 0: player ratings

But Kane looks tired already. Perhaps that is unsurprising; Jose Mourinho showed an aversion to rotation and he has played 69 games in a calendar year.

Whether or not he is the world’s best striker, is he England’s finest right now? Southgate cited energy in his reasons for bringing Marcus Rashford on against Scotland.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been the target man who has understudied Kane but Rashford and Raheem Sterling represent his opposites, the sprinters who will look to spring offside traps. Take Kane out and England’s assortment of creators – Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and co – do not have to worry about him occupying their space between the lines.

Southgate finds with a decision his predecessors faced: stick or twist? Kane has often been compared to Teddy Sheringham and, after two games in the 1998 World Cup, Glenn Hoddle dropped the latter for the altogether quicker Michael Owen, who was fresh from a scoring cameo and who lit up the tournament.

England failed to score in their first two games in the 1986 tournament but Mark Hateley was dropped as Lineker retained. He promptly scored a hat-trick against Poland.

But there are other parallels, of English forwards looking out of shape or unfit; Owen and Wayne Rooney in 2006, Rooney in 2010.

Kane laboured in Euro 2016, finishing a season where he played 64 times with no goals in France. And England’s Golden Boot winners have a common denominator: Kane and Lineker were prolific in World Cups, but neither has scored at a European Championships. It is up to Southgate to decide if Kane has the chance to change that.

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