Spurs hero Harry Kane: real deal or the new Jack Wilshere?

Tottenham and England must tread carefully with Kane to avoid the fate of other bright young things

Harry Kane of Spurs
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

All hail Harry Kane, the new king of White Hart Lane. The 21-year-old's two goals sank Arsenal in Saturday's north London derby and left the Tottenham faithful delirious. "He's one of our own", they sang, despite the fact that in his youth Kane supported the Gunners.

But Spurs fans don't care about their new hero's childhood affiliations – and there was little evidence of them as he single-handedly felled the Gunners – for the Lilywhites they know that in Kane they have arguably the most exciting young English player in the Premier League.

Arsenal once laid claim to that boast. Remember the precocious talent of Jack Wilshere? He was just 16 when he made his Premier League debut in September 2008, as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers, and ten days later he scored his first competitive goal for the club, finding the net in the 6-0 thrashing of Sheffield United in the League Cup.

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The trajectory thereafter was steep, and in August 2010 he made his senior England debut aged 18, the tenth youngest player to represent the national team. The then England manager, Fabio Capello, proclaimed that the teenage midfielder was "the future".

And then came the ankle injury. A stress fracture in August 2011 sidelined him for the season and when he returned for the 2012-13 campaign it was to an Arsenal side struggling to replace Cesc Fabregas and now shorn of Robin van Persie. Arsene Wenger entrusted Wilshere with greater responsibility in the absence of Dutchman and for a while it looked as if he would rise to the challenge, he was no longer the young larrikin who was arrested in 2010 and warned the following year for spitting on a taxi driver.

"He will be one of the leaders of this club," said Wenger in 2013. "In fact he already is. A leader is somebody who does everything on the pitch to help his team to win."

But it wasn't long before an increasing number of commentators were questioning Wilshere's progression. That early promise had stalled and he was not controlling the midfield the way Wenger envisioned. Too fragile, physically and mentally, the critics said, notably former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes.

A month after England's ignominious World Cup exit last June, in which Wilshere did little to enhance his reputation, he was photographed in Las Vegas in a scene that for many encapsulated the current malaise of the national team. Luxuriating in a swimming pool, surrounded by a gaggle of young women, Wilshere was snapped smoking and drinking. It wasn't the first time he'd been caught having a puff; less than a year before he'd been photographed smoking as he left a London nightclub having helped Arsenal beat Napoli earlier that night. Apologising for the incident Wilshere declared at the time: "I'm not a smoker, so I think that will be my last one."

He has not been true to his word, and pictures that emerged last week showing him clutching a shisha pipe suggest that Wilshere is one athlete who does not treat his body as a temple.

According to a report in Saturday's Daily Mail, Arsenal have just about reached the end of their tether with Wilshere and "are now weighing up whether they should sell the England midfielder in the summer". The paper says it's not just off-field antics but also "Wilshere's injury record" that have led them to ponder a sale that a few seasons ago would have been unthinkable. But the reality is Wilshere – despite being with the club since he was nine – has exasperated the patience of even the most diehard Gooner.

The problem Arsenal might face, says the Mail is that Wilshere's fading reputation means "how many clubs would be prepared to stump up a £25m fee and substantial wages which would be north of £80,000-a-week"? Liverpool might, apparently, and also West Ham, who intend to sign a couple of big names ahead of their relocation next year to the Olympic Stadium.

As for Kane, 18 months younger than Wilshere, he is now the young Londoner being talked of as England's "future". Noting that Three Lions manager Roy Hodgson was at the Lane on Saturday to see Kane score his 21st and 22nd goals of the season, The Guardian declared that "England call cannot be far away for the Premier League's breakout star" before asking: "Is there a more enjoyable footballer in the world at the moment than Kane? The answer is a resounding no".

But Henry Winter, writing in the Daily Telegraph, believes England must learn from past mistakes where Kane is concerned. "Amid the inevitable media frenzy at the first sign of home-grown promise," he says, "Hodgson needs a clear mind to consider what is best for the player's long-term development". In Winter's view it might be better if Kane spends the summer at the European Championships Under-21s gaining invaluable experience of playing in an international tournament.

There's logic in that argument. Wilshere once had the world at his feet, only to stumble and fall. Kane must be managed more wisely so that his career too doesn't also go up in smoke.