For once, scoring goals wasn’t the problem as Tottenham meekly succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at home to Wolves on Saturday. Spurs were undone by defensive errors, but their lack of a striker still influenced their shape. It took Jose Mourinho until injury time to bring on Troy Parrott, a substitution which was greeted with ironic cheers from the home fans.
All that might suggest that the sooner Harry Kane comes back, the better. There is hope that their vice-captain will return more quickly than expected. The initial prognosis ruled him out for most of the season, with Mourinho suggesting he would be surprised if he was back in May.
The Spurs boss then told reporters on Friday, "I would say he is a little bit ahead. It gives me hope that instead of one or two matches, it's three, four, five."
We have been here before with Kane, not just once, but it is in fact typical of his injury lay-offs that they are usually curtailed. Since the 2017/18 season, he has been out for three weeks or more on four separate occasions. Since the start of the 2016/17 season, he has had no fewer than five separate ankle injuries.
This current spell is the longest he has ever been sidelined for, but physio and hamstring specialist Tim Allardyce tells The Sportsman that rushing Kane back could be the worst possible move.
“The biggest, biggest, biggest factor is re-injury,” he explains. “The hamstrings are notorious for re-tearing. Hamstring tears are very common anyway, they are the most common athletic injury.
“The problem we know is that hamstring injuries can reoccur. If you come back too quickly and the hamstring has not gained the required level for sport or activity then the hamstring could go. You need to rehabilitate, get the hamstring up to full strength so that it can sustain the level of force and activity you put through it.
“Every time you injure a body part you are more likely to re-injure it. Kane hasn’t got age on his side for his level so his body is not able to recover as it would have 10 years ago. So there is a risk that it won’t get back up to the same full strength that it was before and that will leave it slightly more likely to be injured again and he will have to work really really hard to get the hamstring to full strength so it doesn’t re-tear.”
Last season, ankle ligament damage ruled Kane out for 51 days. But then, there was the question of a Champions League final to rush back for, whatever you think of Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to start him in that showpiece. Without pre-empting fate, what are the chances of Tottenham being involved in any occasions of such importance this season?
Their top-four hopes suffered another hammer blow with the loss against Wolves and they haven’t reached an FA Cup final for 29 years. Hopes of progressing past RB Leipzig in the last 16 of the Champions League also look slim.
Then there is Euro 2020 to consider, too. England boss Gareth Southgate will be left sweating until the last minute over just what version of Kane he is likely to get when his captain joins up ahead of the Three Lions’ first Group D match against Croatia on 14 June.
“I suspect it is going to be quite tight for Euro 2020 but I think he will make it back and be fit,” Allardyce adds. “I think for the first two or three games he will have lost a little bit of pace but that is to be expected. But [Spurs] won’t put him back full time, they will probably sub him on until he is back to full fitness. I think he will be back playing a full game around about June.”
Through all his injuries, Kane has never been allowed to fully recover. That’s partly down to his importance to Spurs, but partly because Daniel Levy has refused to buy another striker, even in January when the severity of his star man’s latest setback was already known. Neglect of the squad as a whole has meant neglect of his needs.
But right now there is not just Tottenham’s season relying upon a well-managed recovery, England’s Euro hopes could too. Both need Harry Kane back at full health rather than as a shell of his usual self.
Even before he ruptured his hamstring muscle at Southampton, he has not looked the same player he was two years ago. On the contrary, he has all the hallmarks of a striker who has been run into the ground.
So when Tottenham’s season is already looking like a write-off, might this not be a chance to finally give Kane the opportunity to get back to his best?