Are Spurs willing to dangle Harry Kane's future over the precipice?
Image: Martin Palazzotto, CC by SA-NC 4.0
You’ve been to the cinema. You know what happens when the characters must tread a narrow path cut out of a mountainside. Inevitably, the ground gives way below some poor sod’s feet. He shouts, scrambling madly for a purchase. None to be found, he slips over the edge, hands and head the last to go. In the nick of time, a companion lunges into the void, locking onto his forearm. At this point, assuming the director went to a good film school, you’re looking over the would-be rescuer’s shoulder at the poor sod, his body twisting in the wind, the ground a hundred feet or more below. What happens next depends on the film but your emotions are as taut as the grip between rescuer and dangler, two muscle masses connected by a tenuous cord.
The same adventure plays out inside our bodies thousands of times each day. Our shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles are the narrow mountainside paths, our ligaments the tenuous cords connecting two muscle masses. When one muscle mass loses its purchase, bad things happen.
In Harry Kane’s case, damage to an ankle ligament initially ruled him out for six weeks. The latest news is he’s already recovered sufficiently to begin training with the squad. For Tottenham fans whose Premier League title hopes remain connected by a gossamer thread, much less a tenuous cord, that sounds like good news.
Quickly, they google Spurs’ fixture list if they don’t already know it by heart. The weekend trip to Turf Moor to face struggling Burnley isn’t too concerning. Midweek, though, there’s a tester at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. The following Saturday, Arsenal come to Wembley. Then there’s the away leg v Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Three goals up, there’s little need for Harry against BVB, but it would be nice to put the game away with a fourth shortly after kickoff at the Westfalenstadion.
Their eagerness is understandable. Mauricio Pochettino might be feeling it too, although the LilyWhites’ boss isn’t the type to let it show. Certainly, the player is anxious to return to the pitch. Forget any noble ideas about earning his massive wage. Football is what Harry Kane does. It’s his passion. Without it, there’s a void he doesn’t know how to fill. Every matchday that he sits idle, he’s dangling over an emotional precipice.
The problem is damaged ligaments in recovery are a lot like the dangler in your film, assuming the rescuer pulled him to safety. Having narrowly escaped death, the poor sod is shaken. His nerves are jangled, emotions raw and, with the adrenaline draining from his system, body weak. Most importantly, he’s less trusting about his surroundings.
Harry’s ankle ligament inhabits the same state, not to mention that the striker himself might be a little nervous about his footing regardless of how happy he is to be back on the pitch. Given that it is a tenuous cord asked to lift heavy loads with little or no help, ligament rehabilitation tends to be a longer process than with a standard muscle injury.
Two seasons ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic went through a similar ordeal after damaging the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in a Europa League match with Manchester United. Not only a passionate footballer, the Swede is a notorious fitness freak. He worked the knee like a madman to return as quickly as possible, releasing videos on social media depicting his progress.
Ibra returned early. Conscious of the danger, Jose Mourinho used him sparingly. A month after his return, he scored his final goal for the Red Devils, the only strike in their EFL Cup defeat to Bristol City. A week later, he reinjured his knee, sidelining him for another three months. The enigmatic striker learned his lesson, taking his time with his second rehab, only signing with LA Galaxy in MLS when his knee was ready for the challenge.
Luke Shaw, Zlatan’s former teammate at United, and Everton’s Seamus Coleman pushed their luck with double leg breaks. Again, the recovery process is a long one. To begin, bones do not grow back exactly as they were before an injury. That affects balance and the mechanics of running. Then, ankle ligaments that have been idle for an extended period must be coaxed back to their previous strength and flexibility. Shaw and Coleman both came back too soon. The Everton captain endured another extended absence. Shaw suffered Jose Mourinho’s abuse for the weight issues and poor form that can be traced back to his injury, the manager treating the young player he inherited from Louis van Gaal with far less respect than the veteran he’d worked with previously at Inter.
Pochettino isn’t going to treat Harry Kane with anything less than the utmost respect. That said, both player and manager must avoid the temptation to rush a return. Despite a lack of squad depth exacerbated by losing Dele Alli to injury and Son Heung-min to international duty but directly traceable to their inactivity in the summer transfer window, Spurs found goals without Kane after an initially steep learning curve. With or without Harry, the Premier League is a long shot, progression in the Champions League all but assured and a top-four place on solid ground. The only need is emotional.
Hurrying Harry Kane back into the starting XI to ease worried minds unnecessarily risks the club’s carefully laid long-term plans.