“For me, it was turmoil,” said Michael Owen last month when opening up about the repeated injuries that first derailed and then curtailed his career.
He is still just 38, but it is 20 years since Owen was in his fullest flow at France ‘98.
His partner in France that summer was Alan Shearer. It was not clear then, but the England captain’s best days were behind him. A nasty ankle ligament problem suffered in a Newcastle United friendly at Everton in July 1997 had waylaid the preternatural pace already hampered by a cruciate injury when playing for Blackburn in December 1992.
Both players had to remodel their game, with Shearer far more successful in bulking up to become imperious in the air, still possessive of a rocket of a right foot. He still piled on the goals for Newcastle, to reach a record 260 Premier League strikes.
Owen managed to win the Ballon D’Or in 2001, two years after the hamstring tear that he now says ended his ability to play without fear, but faltered beyond that.
Being England’s best striker is a tough business, as Wayne Rooney would no doubt agree. Though England’s record outfield cap winner never suffered such horrific injuries as his predecessors, he wore heavily the wear and tear of being asked to play through the pain and the expectation.
The baton is now with Harry Kane, who top-scored at the summer’s World Cup, and broke his August Premier League duck with two goals for Tottenham.
That might suggest he is still in form, but the evidence of his performances so far in the embryonic league season is a player short of his incendiary best.
Kane is entitled to look tired, considering the workload he has assumed for club and country, over the last three years or so. Even when suffering a personal crisis at Euro 2016, he has let nobody down; his failings in France owed plenty to the mystifying tactics of Roy Hodgson.
But as someone who during the World Cup said he aspired to be on the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he would recognise that among the many facets that hand them greatness is the desire to play every game possible.
Rooney shared that same enthusiasm, as did Shearer, while Owen now admits that he positively hated playing football once he knew he was operating on a reduced engine.
That often means rushing back from injury, all while being a marked man, though strikers are definitely more protected than in the days Shearer was being constantly clattered by hairy-arsed centre-halves and Marco van Basten’s career was ended by repeated assaults on his delicate ankles.
Still, the recurrent right ankle injuries Kane has suffered, and since the latest, suffered on March 11 when colliding with Bournemouth keeper Asmir Begovic, he has not shown the devastating snap of his prime form.
Since returning against Chelsea on April 1, his goal ratio has slipped, if not disastrously, from 0.99 goals per match to 0.79 goals per match, but the amount of shots fired in tells a more worrying story.
Before Bournemouth, he fired in 5.96 shots per match to 2.57 per match now, and shots on target have also dropped to 0.99 per match when they were at 2.46.
A definite theme of Kane’s season so far and even during the World Cup was his dropping back into a playmaking position befitting of his number 10 shirt.
That may owe something to being paired with Lucas Moura, whose game is based around surging on beyond the last man.
Kane is a player known to be keen not to be pigeonholed as a pure striker, seeing himself as someone who contributes far more to overall play, though that would seem a bit of a waste of someone who is the foremost English finisher since Shearer; it would have been almost unimaginable to see Newcastle’s captain dropping deep so regularly.
Kane may also be facing the problem of opposing managers finally having worked out how to reduce his effectiveness by making sure he gets far fewer touches in the box, a stat borne out by a drop from 7.2 to 4.35.
Perhaps some reinvention is required, something the very best players all undergo.
But the overriding sense with Kane at present is someone cowed, blunted by the workload of being his club’s talisman, and also the primary goals source for his country. As England captain, and with the target of Rooney’s 53 England goals in mind, he will not wish to sit out their matches this weekend and next week against Spain and Switzerland even when he requires rest and a little protection.
Kane’s unbridled ambition is to be admired, but his predecessors show the pitfalls of pushing himself too hard.