Mauricio Pochettino surely regrets the decision he made before last season’s Champions League final.
The issue of Harry Kane’s fitness, or lack thereof, dominated the build-up to the June 1 showdown between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool with the striker missing nearly months of action beforehand.
That didn’t stop Pochettino from starting his top scorer, though.
It was the wrong decision. Whether or not things would have been different had Lucas Moura started up front instead will remain a topic of hypothesis, but Kane was well off the pace. A shadow of the striker widely renowned as the best in Europe.
Liverpool might have beaten Spurs any which way, but Kane’s inclusion hindered Spurs.
The sight of Kane hobbling around the Metropolitano pitch, essentially held together by whatever the medial equivalent of blu-tack and tape is, served as an illustration of his 2018/19 season as a hole. The 26-year-old still managed to bag 27 times for club and country, but there was a sense throughout that he was playing within himself.
Kane’s struggles could be traced all the way back to the 2018 World Cup. He might have collected the Golden Boot, scoring six goals in seven games, but his lack of fitness was obvious from England’s group opener against Tunisia.
Kane, just as he did for the Champions League final a year later, rushed himself back from injury to be ready for the World Cup, but never really was.
From there, Kane launched himself into a long, hard club season, never allowing himself the time to rest his body so badly needed. Now, however, the Spurs striker has had some time away from the game to recuperate for the first time in two years. He has been on holiday and enjoyed a full pre-season.
It’s no coincidence that Kane has looked more like his old self in those pre-season fixtures.
In fact, Kane could be set for the season of his career to date. The Tottenham forward is moving better than he has for a long, long time with the team around him the strongest it has ever been.
If Spurs can keep hold of Christian Eriksen and lure one of, or both, Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon before the close of the transfer window, Kane will be harnessed to an even greater extent than he already is.
Pochettino’s remarks this week have led some to question whether he is truly happy where he is, but the Argentinean has built the strongest Spurs side in a generation. They are, as things stand, probably the only team that stands a chance of challenging Liverpool and Manchester City’s Premier League supremacy next season.
What’s more, Spurs are back in North London following the protracted construction of their new stadium. On the basis of the games played there towards the end of last season, they have settled into their new surroundings rather quickly and so that could be worth a few extra points by the end of the campaign. Wembley will no longer be a factor.
Kane is still some way short of full fitness, as admitted by Pochettino last week. “We are happy with him but still, we don’t expect too much,” he said after a pre-season win over Juventus. “We know his talent and what he can add to the team but it’s step by step, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”
Nonetheless, everything is in place for Kane to reach new heights this season, sitting at 4/1 to finish as the Premier League top scorer.
A full pre-season has allowed him to reset, both physically and mentally, with Spurs also entering a new phase of their modern history. Kane probably shouldn’t have played against Liverpool in Madrid, but Spurs will see a very different player this season.