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Does Harry Kane’s Legacy Ride On This World Cup?

In international football, England’s Harry Kane is as stellar as they come. As his team prepares to take on Senegal in the Round of 16 at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, he needs just three more strikes to pass Wayne Rooney’s mark of 53 and become the country’s all-time leading goal scorer. And if the Three Lions win and advance to the semifinals in Qatar — which they also did in Kane’s first World Cup four years ago — Kane will have been captain for the entirety of what is arguably England’s most successful era.

That’s on top of his domestic record, which is only growing after a whirlwind first portion of the 2022-23 Premier League season. Twelve goals in his first 15 games puts Kane on pace for 30 in a single season, a feat only achieved 11 times before by nine players1 in the Premier League’s 30-year history. Thirty goals usually leads to the Golden Boot award, and, if not for Erling Haaland’s astonishing debut in English football — Haaland is on pace for more than 50 so far for Manchester City — Kane would be on his way to tying Thierry Henry for a record fourth award. As it is, Kane needs only five more goals in his next eight games to become the fastest ever to 200 Premier League goals, and another 66 to overtake Alan Shearer as the Premier League’s all-time leading goal scorer.

But despite all of Kane’s individual accomplishments, his lack of a team trophy — either internationally or at the club level for Tottenham Hotspur — has been the biggest sticking point in his career to date. With England still four wins away and carrying only a nine percent chance of lifting its first World Cup since 1966 (according to FiveThirtyEight’s predictions), is it possible for Kane to be considered the G.O.A.T of English football without hoisting a piece of championship hardware?

Kane’s undeniable success would suggest yes. After all, you win football matches by scoring more than the other team, and few have been better at supplying those scores. While critics will point to his comparative lack of production in the games that would have given him that elusive first trophy — in 13 semifinals and finals for club and country, Kane has scored just three times — his overall rate of one goal per every 1.5 games will most likely leave Kane sitting top of the scoring charts for both the Premier League and England when his career is over.

Kane is zooming up the ranks of England’s goal scorers

Most career goals scored as a member of England’s national football team and in the English Premier League

Player Games Goals GPG Player Games Goals GPG
Wayne Rooney 120 53 0.44 Alan Shearer 441 260 0.59
Harry Kane 78 51 0.65 Wayne Rooney 491 208 0.42
Sir Bobby Charlton 106 49 0.46 Harry Kane 297 195 0.66
Gary Lineker 80 48 0.60 Andrew Cole 414 187 0.45
Jimmy Greaves 57 44 0.77 Sergio Agüero 275 184 0.67
Vivian Woodward 31 43 1.39 Frank Lampard 609 177 0.29
Michael Owen 89 40 0.45 Thierry Henry 258 175 0.68
Nat Lofthouse 32 30 0.94 Robbie Fowler 379 163 0.43
Alan Shearer 63 30 0.48 Jermain Defoe 496 162 0.33
Tom Finney 76 30 0.39 Michael Owen 326 150 0.46


Still only 29 years old, Kane hasn’t yet played long enough to enter the record books for all-time appearances. But being on the right side of 30 means Kane still has a potentially long domestic and international career ahead of him. The nature of his traditional No. 9 position — which allows him to be the focal point on offense while limiting his running relative to wider attacking players like Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford — could help Kane continue to play at the top level for many seasons to come. 

After a string of injuries plagued him early in his career — Kane missed an average of 11 games per season between 2016-17 and 2020-21 — he hasn’t missed a game for Tottenham due to injury since an ankle problem kept him out for two games toward the end of the 2020-21 season, according to Transfermarkt. Barring a major injury, Kane could join Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as the only players ever to make at least 100 appearances for England and 500 in the Premier League.2 

Kane is in an exclusive club of English football

Players who rank among the top 150 in career English Premier League appearances and the top 25 in career matches played for the England national team

Player English Premier League England National Team
Frank Lampard 611 106
Wayne Rooney 491 120
Steven Gerrard 504 114
Ashley Cole 384 107
Rio Ferdinand 503 81
John Terry 492 78
Gary Neville 398 85
Michael Owen 326 89
Raheem Sterling 332 81
David Seaman 344 77
Harry Kane 297 78

Players currently active for England in bold.


Then there’s arguably Kane’s most underrated achievement: his mostly successful captaincy of the national team, particularly compared to what came before. 

When Kane took over the reins before the 2018 World Cup, England was in the midst of arguably its most dismal spell of international play since it failed to qualify for four straight major tournaments from 1972 to 1978. His captaincy was preceded by the glitz and glamor of England’s ‘Golden Generation’ — a series of England teams between 2002 and 2006 that featured some of the world’s biggest names, including Gerrard, Lampard, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney — which failed to advance past the quarterfinals of three straight tournaments, falling well short of lofty expectations.

Then came an era that was filled with mostly laughable and embarrassing moments. England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship under manager Steve McClaren, who was branded “A wally with a Brolly” after he stood on the sideline holding an umbrella in the final minutes of a 3-2 home defeat to Croatia that ended England’s qualification hopes. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, archrival Germany beat England 4-1 in the Round of 16. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil under manager Roy Hodgson, England finished at the bottom of its group with only a point against Costa Rica to cling onto. And then at the 2016 European Championship, still with Hodgson at the helm, it lost to Iceland — a country of just 335,000 people — in the Round of 16.

But those follies ended with the arrivals of manager Gareth Southgate and Kane as captain. Among English captains, Kane has enjoyed the best winning percentage at major tournaments, with 11 victories in 16 games. The only captain to come near Kane’s record — and, admittedly, it’s a big name — is Bobby Moore. Under Moore, England won the 1966 World Cup on home soil, reached the semifinals of the 1968 European Championship3 and then lost in the quarterfinals at the 1970 World Cup.

Kane is already one of England’s most successful captains

Best winning percentage in major tournaments for England by captain

Captain Wins Games Win Pct World Cup Euros
Harry Kane 10 15 .667 Semis Final
Bobby Moore 7 11 .636 Won Semis*
Mick Mills 3 5 .600 Group
Tony Adams 3 5 .600 Semis
David Beckham 7 14 .500 Quarters Quarters
Alan Shearer 3 7 .429 Group
Bryan Robson 5 14 .357 Semis Group
Kevin Keegan 1 3 .333 Group
Steven Gerrard 3 11 .273 R16 Quarters
Wayne Rooney 1 4 .250 R16
Gary Linekar 0 3 .000 Group

*The 1968 European Championship only featured four teams, but England had to qualify via a group stage and quarterfinal.


Kane can’t match the shiny items in Moore’s trophy case, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. In addition to his efforts with the national team, he’s been the catalyst behind one of the most successful Tottenham spells since it won the original English First Division in the 1960-61 season. And he led Spurs on their historic run to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final, only to lose to a historically great Liverpool team. A lack of spending power compared with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea — Tottenham has just the fifth-highest net spend in the Premier League in the past five seasons — has also hindered their chances at becoming the kings of England.

With so many different factors contributing to a team’s success, the debate for many superstar athletes is how much the lack of a title takes away from their greatness and their place in history. But there’s little question over whether team trophies add to a player’s legacy and overall resume.

And if lifting the FIFA World Cup Trophy as captain is the final jewel in Kane’s crown, time is running out. No player has ever captained England at more than three major tournaments,4 and with Declan Rice waiting in the wings to take over, the 2022 World Cup could be Kane’s last as captain.5 Whether it’s Mike Trout, Henrik Lundqvist or Dan Marino, we know that countless great athletes plying their trade often fall through the cracks and don’t win anything.

The foundations of Kane’s legendary career have already been laid. And should he lead England to the promised land and win the World Cup in Qatar (or even in four years’ time in North America), there would be virtually no argument against his status as the greatest player ever born on English soil. Without that accomplishment, though, there will always be a question around what’s missing from Kane’s career — and it’s up to him to erase those doubts this month.

Check out our latest World Cup predictions.


  1. Kane, Andrew Cole, Alan Shearer (three times), Kevin Phillips, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, Luis Suárez and Mohamed Saleh.

  2. Lampard played in 609 Premier League games and 106 for England, while Gerrard played 504 and 114.

  3. Granted, the 1968 tournament only featured four teams, but England had to qualify via a group stage and quarterfinal.

  4. Kane joins Moore, Beckham, Gerrard and Bryan Robson.

  5. Kane captained England at the 2018 World Cup and 2020 European Championships.

Daniel Levitt is a former sports intern with FiveThirtyEight. He now runs the journalism newsletter and job board Inside The Newsroom.


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