Is it possible for a player to be 'world class' at Spurs? Tom Mitchell argues against the notion that this title is only reserved for those at the elite clubs.
“To be the best you have to produce your best against the best”.
Harry Kane’s definition this week of ‘world class’ is, somewhat reassuringly, rather at odds with Philip Neville’s argument that in order to be labelled world class you have to play with and for the best.
“I think he needs to be challenging for Champions Leagues and if Spurs are always going to be that ‘nearly’ team, eventually he will want to leave and join a Real Madrid or Barcelona.”
Some parts of the media’s reluctance to tolerate the very notion that ‘world class’ players can somehow reside and flourish in the murky area below the richest and the absolute elite is as tiresome as the regular debates about which definitive formula should be used to calculate what world class actually means.
Have to do it on the international stage? Well that rules out George Best and Ryan Giggs. Need to win the biggest trophies both domestically and in Europe? Step forward David May. To complicate matters further, Neville has revealed that there are even more granular levels of ‘world class’ status, including ‘real top, top world class’ – a ranking he laments that Kane will sadly be unable to achieve should he remain with Spurs.
In my years of supporting Spurs I’ve been lucky enough to watch talismanic stars like Bale, Berbatov and Gascoigne. All of them were pretty much what I would casually say is ‘world class’, all of them were on a starkly upward trajectory in their careers and all were worth paying the admission fee to see. None of them, however, were ‘Spurs’ to the level Kane is. I still struggle to get my head around the fact that this exceptionally talented man has come through our own set-up and is scoring goals for fun wearing the colours of the team he loves. As fans we never expected the players to feel the way about Spurs that we do. We always knew they’d eventually be off to bigger and better things – and that of course has just as much to do with the club’s somewhat more modest ambitions and positions within the English footballing hierarchy at the respective times – however it’s not totally unrealistic to envisage Harry Kane spending the best years of his career in a Spurs shirt.
So that’s why it’s galling to see the likes of Phil Neville regularly generating transfer rumour headlines by publicly insisting that it’s not possible for a player to be labelled ‘world class’ if he chooses to remain and progress at the likes of Tottenham. A team that is currently in the best, healthiest and most unified state that many of us can ever remember it being in. A team that has spent the last few seasons on an upward curve, challenging for the title two seasons in a row and looking well-placed to do the same again this time around despite the influx into our league of some of the so-called best managers in the world – not to mention the truly monstrous levels of casual spending from some of our competitors.
It’s not totally unrealistic to envisage Harry Kane spending the best years of his career in a Spurs shirt
While Champions League winners David May and Jesper Blonquist could probably walk around Manchester relatively unrecognised, Matthew Le Tissier will never, ever have to buy himself a drink in Southampton. He didn’t win anything there of course, but that doesn’t mean he’s not held in awesome esteem by every Southampton fan without exception for enjoying a long, loyal and at times spectacular career exclusively at their club. Harry Kane has every chance of achieving the same level of legendary status at Spurs – but also with a major trophy or two to show for it as well. His ‘local boy’ status adds even more to his mystique and the deep connection we feel with him.
His rise runs – coincidentally or otherwise – parallel with that of Spurs in recent years. Very few foresaw the impact he would go onto have during his modest loan spells at Leicester and Leyton Orient, or his initial, slightly awkward early appearances for the Spurs first-team. Harry Kane is not a naturally-gifted prodigy who has been tearing up trees since he first set foot in the professional game – he has worked exceptionally hard to improve and develop his style of play to make him into the coveted footballer he is today. That ethic along with the calm, down-to-earth head he has on his shoulders leads me to feel encouraged that he is motivated differently to many others of his age and ability, who may feel more a sense of burgeoning entitlement when it comes to their position within the global footballing hierarchy – both on a personal and a team level.
A team that has spent the last few seasons on an upward curve, challenging for the title two seasons in a row and looking well-placed to do the same again this time.
So back to Phil Neville and others who seek to define the meaning of ‘world class’, and the methodology behind its appropriate use as a label. If the only way an already-excellent footballer can achieve such an elevated status is by leaving his club to win guaranteed trophies with the absolute elite, then we as fans might as well give up now. I hope Harry Kane gets the recognition he wants – and that he of course deserves – and unless he has rabid ambitions of earning a million a week, living a playboy lifestyle and winning three trophies a year for the rest of his career there is no reason that he can’t continue to achieve that with Spurs.
If our club’s fortunes were to plummet, if we were failing to challenge and if Spurs were no longer heading in a positive direction, then none of us would begrudge Harry the opportunity to achieve his ambitions elsewhere whilst at the height of his career. But while we continue to challenge and progress under the best manager we’ve had in my lifetime, there’s no need for the more clickbait-oriented publications and pundits to incessantly debate his world class status and fuel stories about the moves necessary for him to reach Phil Neville’s definition of the coveted pinnacle of the game. I selfishly hope that he never reaches the level of ‘real top, top world class’, and that he continues to command the undiluted admiration, love and respect from millions of Tottenham fans for the rest of his career – and his life.