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Harry Kane vs Alan Shearer: the battle of two talismanic English strikers

Last year, I wrote an article looking at how likely Harry Kane is to beat Alan Shearer’s record of 260 Premier League goals. A season and World Cup later, Kane is 30 closer to the target, currently sitting on 108.

Here and now, I take another look at the similarities and differences between the two, and examine the numbers that show how Harry Kane can beat Shearer’s record.

The Similarities

Both Harry Kane and Alan Shearer represented England youth teams. Shearer played only for the Under-21s, but scored an impressive 13 goals in 11 appearances, the best ratio of all-time. Kane meanwhile played for England at under-17, 19, 20 and 21 level, scoring seventeen goals over the four age groups and in several tournaments.

This is where it gets weird. Both Shearer and Kane made their senior debuts at the age of 21, and both marked their first cap with a goal (Shearer vs France, Kane vs Lithuania).

Following their debuts, they both endured a nightmare, goalless first tournament (Euro 1992 and Euro 2016), but then finished as top scorer in their second (Euro 1996 and World Cup 2018).

They both became captain of the national side, even leading out the Three Lions during each of their first senior World Cups in 1998 and 2018.

The weirdest similarity of all however, is that twenty years apart, both Shearer and Kane made their World Cup debuts (and scored their first World Cup goals) against North African side Tunisia.

Their goalscoring records for England are relatively similar as well. Shearer finished with 30 goals from 63 games, while Kane currently has 19 from 30 (though Shearer only had 13 goals after his first 30 caps).

The Differences

At club level, there is little similarity between the two so far. Harry Kane has been with Spurs for the entirety of his professional career, while Shearer came through the ranks at Southampton before moving to title challengers Blackburn, and later to boyhood club Newcastle.

Kane has already surpassed the four Premier League Player of the Month accolades won by Shearer, the Londoner with six to his name already.

Shearer won the league’s Golden Boot on three occasions, a feat Kane will equal if he earns one more. They are however, both part of an elite group of nine players to have scored 30 goals in a single Premier League campaign (along with Andrew Cole, Mohamed Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie, Thierry Henry and Kevin Phillips). Shearer remains the only man to score 30 goals in more than one season, achieving it three years on the bounce in the mid-nineties.

The Style of Play

Shearer was a very complete striker. Having started his career as a more creative player, moulded by his midfield deployment in his youth, the combination of pace, power and lethal finishing meant that he was incredibly difficult to defend against.

Kane too is a very complete player, but he does not possess the pace or physicality that Shearer had. Like Shearer though, Kane’s movement is a still a big part of his game. The intelligence of seeking space between lines, shaking off a defender and being in the right place at the right time (as he was twice against Tunisia) cannot be taught, and will earn Kane many more goals.

Shearer was not bereft of injury throughout his career, twice having extended periods on the sidelines with serious injuries. These injuries took their toll; along with age, and Shearer adapted to be more of a traditional target man.

Still possessing one of the fiercest shots in world football, the goals continued to come. It will be very intriguing to watch the rest of Kane’s career, as he will likely make such a transition more gradually. Being already somewhat short of pace, is Kane already adapted to such a style?

The Numbers

With 441 games taken to reach his 260 goals, Shearer’s Premier League finished with a goal to game ratio of 0.59. That has him fourth in the all-time list, and second of players to have retired.

The only retired player to beat him was Thierry Henry, whose 175 goals came in 258 games at a ratio of 0.68. The two who are still playing? Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane.

Aguero currently sits in second place with 146 goals from 207 games, giving the Argentine a 0.70 ratio. Englishman Kane sits top of the pile with 0.71.

It would be short-sighted to say that Kane is a better striker just from these numbers however. After four full seasons in the Premier League (the same as Kane has currently) Shearer had 112 goals from 138 appearances; a mammoth 0.81 goals per game.

But what do these numbers mean for Kane’s chances of going on to beat the record? It seems obvious that Kane is unlikely to maintain his current scoring ratio, but if he did, it would take him another 214 games, less than six full seasons.

If Kane plays until age 35 (the age at which Shearer retired), he has 10 full seasons left to score 158 goals. He is very much capable of scoring at such a rate, but certainly his personal targets will be much higher.

How high can he go?

Harry Kane himself will surely not be thinking anything along these lines just yet, but that’s not to say we can’t!

If we go back beyond 1992, to the days of the First Division, we see that Shearer’s 260 is just a needle in a 130-year-old haystack.

Footballing purists will long since have pointed out to the younger amongst us that Alan Shearer scored more than 260 goals in the League. They would be right.

Between 1988 and 1992, Shearer bagged 23 First Division goals for Southampton. These are not included in his list of Premier League goals as the Premier League began in 1992, but football certainly didn’t.

With 283 English top-flight goals, Shearer is down in fifth in the list of all-time English top-flight scorers, behind Gordon Hodgson (287), Dixie Dean (310, and the record scorer in a single top-flight season with 60 goals), Steve Bloomer (314) and Jimmy Greaves (357).

357 seems a ridiculous notion, in the modern game at least. It would require 18 20-goal seasons, or 12 30-goal seasons. If Harry Kane is to get close to 357, he will likely have to raise his game even further, to Ballon d’Or level.

Indeed, that level does score that many league goals. More, in fact. In Spain, Lionel Messi currently has 385 La Liga goals to his name, and he has a few years left. Cristiano Ronaldo has 398 over spells in Portugal, England and Spain, and will smash past 400 this season with Juventus.

Such a total is possible then. But is Harry Kane on their level? Unfortunately not.

People have talked about Harry Kane as the star of English football; rightly so, the man captained England to the World Cup semi-finals for only the third time ever and won the Golden Boot, but will he ever be the world’s best?

For me, it seems unlikely. But if he can up his scoring ratio even higher, the sky is the limit for his goals tally.

Who was better?

Kane? Shearer? It seems a little foolish to decide now, so I won’t.

Kane has the opportunity to become both a club and national team legend. If he can finally bring football home in 2022, or if he beats Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 international goals, then we might be talking.

In 10-years-time, when a new record may or may not be set, we will know.

Sam Hanys

A miserable Ipswich Town fan.

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