With 53 goals, Harry Kane is level with Wayne Rooney as England’s record goalscorer. Barring something unforeseen, he’s going to break the scoring record – it’s just a matter of when. He could even do so tonight against Italy, as England’s UEFA European Qualification campaign gets underway. But does he get the credit he deserves? We look at all the stats from the Three Lions’ soon-to-be leading scorer.
When Harry Kane placed the ball on the spot for the second time against France in the FIFA World Cup 2022 quarter-final, he did so with a chance to do two things. First, and most pressingly, this was a chance to level the tie at 2-2 and – probably – send it into extra time. Second, with Kane on 53 goals overall for his country, it was an opportunity to become England’s leading goalscorer. As it was, the England captain blazed the ball over the bar. The record, although inevitable, would have to wait.
At the same tournament, Kane had bagged his 52nd second goal for the Three Lions against Senegal in the round of 16, before tying Rooney’s all-time record of 53 with his first penalty attempt against France.
Now, almost eight years to the day since Kane’s England debut (and first goal), he has the chance to finally take sole ownership of the record.
Back to the Start
Kane’s start to his senior England international career couldn’t have gone much better – scoring just 79 seconds into his debut against Lithuania in March 2015. That game saw him replace Rooney on the pitch, a substitution that now seems to hold greater significance eight years on.
In records dating to 1872, Kane is one of only six players to score within his first two minutes of England action, and the most recent player to do so before Kane was Gerry Hitchens in 1961. Following such a rapid start to his international career, the Spurs striker went on to add goals in his third and fourth caps for the Three Lions, but by the end of a disappointing exit in Euro 2016 to Iceland, Kane’s international pedigree was beginning to be questioned with just five goals in 17 appearances. That period also coincided with Roy Hodgson giving him a strange new role as senior corner taker in the side.
Following a goalless 82-minute appearance in Slovakia under Sam Allardyce (remember when this happened?), the appointment of Gareth Southgate as England boss led to a rapid acceleration in Kane’s goalscoring for his country. Since Southgate came in, Kane’s scored 48 goals in 63 caps. No player has ever scored more for a single manager in England men’s history.
In fact, those 48 goals are 30 more than any other England player during Southgate’s tenure as coach, ahead of Raheem Sterling’s 18. Of England’s 169 goals under Southgate, Kane’s 48 represent 28%, while with 14 additional assists, he’s been involved in 36% of the Three Lions’ goals in all competitions since Southgate’s first game versus Malta in October 2016.
Naturally, when England’s major tournament qualifying calendar contains games against “lesser” footballing nations – Kane scoring seven goals in consecutive games against Albania and San Marino in November 2021 comes to mind – his record comes into question.
True, only six of his 53 goals have come against teams ranked in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings at the time of the fixture (11%), with three of those coming in friendlies. He’s also scored more goals against San Marino (five) than he has against any other opponent in his England career, but that shouldn’t take the gloss off any eventual goal record he breaks for the Three Lions.
Important goals at Euro 2020 against 12th-ranked Germany and 10th-ranked Denmark were his first goals against teams in the top 15 of the FIFA Rankings since a winner against Croatia in the UEFA Nations League in November 2018. He of course also scored a penalty against fourth-ranked France last winter at the 2022 World Cup.
However, since that Croatia win, England have played just 12 games against teams ranked in the top 15 of the FIFA rankings, and Kane’s scored six goals across 1,010 minutes on the pitch in these fixtures.
Against the English Greats
Kane scored the fourth and fifth England senior hat-tricks of his career across four days in those two meetings with Albania and San Marino back in November an impressive feat considering only two players had previously scored back-to-back hat-tricks for England.
Kane joined Vivian Woodward (1909), Dixie Dean (1927) and Tommy Taylor (1957) in scoring hat-tricks in successive appearances, while he drew level with Gary Lineker on five hat-tricks overall for England – only Jimmy Greaves (six) has more for the men’s senior team.
With four goals in Serravalle against San Marino on November 15 2021, he also became the first England player to score four times in a single appearance since Ian Wright in 1993 – also against San Marino. In fact, the previous occasion of a player scoring four goals for England before Wright also came in a match against the Sammarinese, with David Platt’s four goals 10 months prior in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.
Kane’s seven-goal haul across those four days in November meant that he ended 2021 with 16 goals for England, breaking another record. In 2019, he equalled the feats of Dixie Dean in 1927 and George Hilsdon in 1908 by scoring 12 times in a calendar year, but his four goals in Serravalle accelerated the current England captain past these tallies.
With 53 goals in 80 appearances, Kane is on the cusp of breaking the England men’s goal record as we head into qualifying for the European Championships in 2024. Drawn in a group against the likes of Malta and North Macedonia, Kane will be looking to extend his lead in the goalscoring charts.
But how did Kane compare at this stage in his career with other England legends? Looking at the trajectory of Kane’s England goals by appearances, he’s well ahead of both Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney by this stage of his international career.
After 80 caps, current record scorer Rooney had 34 goals while Charlton had netted 43 times by this stage of his England career.
Age is also on Harry Kane’s side. His goal against France in England’s last competitive game came while he was 29 years, 135 days old – an age at which both Rooney (46 goals in 101 apps) and Charlton (41 goals in 77 apps) had scored fewer.
Gary Lineker had only played 47 games for England at the same age as Kane is now, 33 fewer than Kane, but had an impressive return of 30 goals at a rate of a strike every 125 minutes. That’s still less impressive than Kane’s current ratio of a goal every 117 minutes for the Three Lions.
The late Jimmy Greaves deserves a mention here, too. He made his final England appearance in May 1967 at just 27 years, and 96 days old, ending his senior international career with 44 goals in 57 apps and a minutes-per-goal ratio the same as Kane’s (117).
On the Hunt for Ronaldo’s Record?
Cristiano Ronaldo holds the record for the most international goals by a male player, with 118 goals in 196 appearances for Portugal. The Portuguese moved ahead of the only other male with at least 100 international goals – Iran’s Ali Daei with 109 goals in 148 games – when he scored twice against the Republic of Ireland in Portugal’s European Qualifier in Faro-Loulé in September 2021, aged 36.
So, what chance does Kane have of moving past 100 goals on the international stage and getting anywhere near Ronaldo’s record? Well, in this case, age isn’t on his side.
Kane’s 53rd international goal against France at the 2022 FIFA World Cup came on his 80th cap with the Spurs’ striker aged 29 years and 135 days old – over three years older than Ronaldo was on his 71st cap in June 2010 (26 years, three days). Ronaldo had less than half the goal tally at this stage of his international career, however (26). His goal record took another two years to really accelerate, with 86 goals in 106 caps since the start of the 2012 European Championship finals.
Ronaldo is currently on 196 international caps for Portugal and is set to break the all-time men’s international caps record (Bader Al-Mutawa 196 for Kuwait) in Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifier at home to Liechtenstein on Thursday.
With Kane needing to play another 116 games for England to replicate this tally – this feels very unlikely given that only one male outfielder has ever won as many England caps as this in their entire career – Wayne Rooney (120).
Being a top international goalscorer inevitably means you will score more goals against so-called minnows than the crème de la crème of the international scene – it shouldn’t put a dampener on any records set.
Harry Kane will break the England men’s goalscoring record, maybe even doing so tonight against Italy, at which point it should be celebrated, not dismissed.
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