Harry Kane has been called many things - a one-season wonder, the next Alan Shearer, a tap-in merchant, a World Cup Golden Boot winner (that one's a fact), and finished at the age of 27. But one thing he's not yet been called is the best player in the Premier League.
Perhaps timing has always been an issue for Kane, and the fact that they don't give out awards based on calendar years. In the 2015/16 season, his case for PFA Players' Player of the Season was overshadowed by Riyad Mahrez' season-defining heroics for Leicester as they won the league. The next campaign, former Leicester player N'Golo Kanté's season-defining heroics for Chelsea were enough to claim the award as they won the league.
In the 2017/18 season, Kane started as well as you could possibly hope for, ending 2017 with the most goals in Europe, the first time in seven years that this had been achieved by someone not called Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Then that pesky Mo Salah decided to channel his inner Thierry Henry and break the Premier League single-season goalscoring record, and there's not really much you can do about that.
Since then, Kane has been in and out of the treatment room with a series of injury problems, and until this year he was performing at a rate that was still perfectly acceptable, but a little 'meh' by his own standards.
Then something unexpected happened. The coronavirus pandemic put every single major sporting competition on hold. Every Premier League footballer was to get an three month break and, importantly for Kane, Euro 2020 was pushed back a year.
With Kane allowed to fully recover from a hamstring injury suffered on New Year's Day, and effectively given two pre-seasons either side of the restart to help, he has started the 2020/21 season in thoroughly terrifying fashion, with Manchester United the latest to bear witness to the England captain at his rejuvenated best.
It's Kane, but not as we know it. While the Tottenham academy product always had a reputation as a striker who was adept at linking play, he added a sixth (yes, sixth) assist in just four Premier League games during the demolition at Old Trafford, taking advantage of United's disorganisation to slide a perfect ball through to Son Heung-min from an indirect free kick.
Add this to the two goals he scored, as well as his unerring ability to pick out Serge Aurier or Erik Lamela in dangerous positions on the right, and you had one of the most complete performances of any forward in the league this season - and the most extraordinary thing is that it came not from a winger or attacking midfielder, but a number nine who is as traditional as half time oranges and black Nike Tiempos.
With such a level of completion comes the question - does this now elevate Kane back to that pantheon of the league's best players after a couple of fallow years? The best way to answer that is perhaps by reviewing his competition.
Firstly, it helps to agree on a tier of players that Kane, who has always been one of the Premier League's most consistent if not outstanding performers, belongs on. You would count these players among the most efficient in the Premier League, with around 20 goal contributions a season usually their benchmark if they are forwards, but for various reasons they are held back from that conversation about the best player in the league.
These players often fall just short of greatness as a result of their streaky form, as in the case of Son and Raheem Sterling; their lack of an all-round game, as with Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; or simply recurrent fitness issues, in the case of Sergio Agüero and, you guessed it, Kane.
The top tier of players in the Premier League is, on the other hand, populated with three players who will not only flirt with 25 goal contributions a season, but who can also dominate games in a variety of ways. Those three players are Salah, Sadio Mané and Kevin De Bruyne (Alisson and Virgil van Dijk too, but let's be honest, goalkeepers and defenders don't really count).
Salah combines the most polished current goalscoring threat in the league with a fearsome capability to create chances and carve open defences through his dribbling. Mané's intelligence, work rate and versatility means that he can score a goal in more or less every conceivable fashion. De Bruyne is one of the most unique midfielders the Premier League has ever seen in terms of his portfolio of technical attributes and goalscoring contribution.
These players all find a way to contribute, even against opposition that can neutralise their main strengths, and in adding creativity to his game, Kane too may have found that way.
The variety of his assists so far is noteworthy - a far post cross against Newcastle, a lovely clipped reverse ball over the top for three of his of four assists against Southampton, and the aforementioned bit of ingenuity from the free kick against United.
The caveat with all this is that much as the whole Juan Roman Riquelme tribute act is great fun from Kane, in your heart of hearts you want to see him doing what he's best at - getting to crosses at the back post, scrambling to loose balls in the box, and smashing in goals with his right foot on the edge of the area.
And the scariest thing for the rest of the league is he's doing this.
Last season, Kane undeniably took an enormous dip - he looked less confident after his injury problems, registering 2.71 shots per 90 minutes, compared to 5.30 at his peak in the 2017/18 season (via FBRef). His expected goals (for those into that sort of thing) were at 0.37 per 90, compared to 0.76 in 2017/18.
This season, Kane is taking 4.84 shots every 90 minutes, while he has been attacking far better positions, with 0.61 xG per 90. You can see it with your own eyes, especially in the Newcastle game where the heroics of Karl Darlow stopped what could've been a hat trick for Kane with the chances he got - he feels like the striker again.
It could well be that, though Kane has a modest three goals in four games to his name just now, we're about to see (injuries permitting) the return of the number nine who was heralded as the best in the world in 2017 - except this time he has the playmaking abilities of a number ten.
And that could be just the push he needs to be the very best.
Source : 90min