Gary Lineker has urged England captain Harry Kane to grasp the chance to ‘change his life forever’ by shining at this summer’s World Cup finals.
Former England striker Lineker exploded onto the world stage when he finished as top goal scorer at the Mexico’86 finals, with his six goals inspiring Barcelona to make a move to sign the striker who instantly became the hottest property in the game.
Now Lineker has told us that Spurs striker Kane can follow in his footsteps by hitting top form at Russia, as he prepares for England’s opening game against Tunisia in Volgograd tomorrow night.
“Kane is England’s main man at this World Cup and that is a pressure he needs to deal with, but I would back him to take it in his stride,” states Lineker, speaking at the launch of the BBC’s World Cup coverage in London.
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“I remember when he burst onto the scene at Tottenham four years ago and people were saying he would not sustain it, but he has hit 30 goals a season in the three years since and proved he is the real deal.
“Kane has it all. He has intelligence, a great temperament, everyone says he is a wonderful professional and he is also desperate for goals. He doesn’t have blistering pace, but his other qualities make up for that and his scoring record confirms as much.
“What separates the best players from the very good players is that they invariably deliver when it matters and Kane does that more often than not.
“He is humble on and off the field and doesn’t get carried away when things go well or if he has a bad patch. That’s why he is so valuable to Spurs and why he could, and I say could with a small c, carry England further than we think in this World Cup.
“Now he needs to do it on the biggest stage of them all with England and as I know from personal experience, do well in a World Cup and maybe win the golden boot, it can change your life forever.”
Lineker’s memories of his first World Cup 32 years ago paint an image of a very different landscape that the glossy images we have been presented with in the opening days of Russia 2018.
An opening defeat against a second-rate Portugal side followed by a 1-0 defeat against Morocco meant England’s World Cup campaign was on the brink of meltdown going into their final group game against Poland in Monterrey.
That was the day when Lineker stepped forward to save the day for Bobby Robson’s side, with a hat-trick that sent them on their way to a famous victory on a bobbly pitch in front of a modest crowd.
“The idea of playing in a World Cup was a dream for me, but it didn’t really live up to what I imagined when I got to Mexico,” reflects Lineker.
“The pitches were crap, bare in places and the heat was oppressive. The stands were empty in a lot of the stadiums and this was not what we were expecting as England players going to a World Cup.
“Losing to Portugal and drawing with Morocco in our first two matches added to the sense that this was a nightmare unfolding before our eyes. Our captain Bryan Robson was injured, Ray Wilkins was sent off for throwing the ball at the referee and I had a bad wrist.
“Everything was going wrong, but thankfully the Poland game turned everything around and from there were beat Paraguay in the first knock-out round before the Argentina game that will never be forgotten due to Diego Maradona’s handball and that incredible goal that followed.
“I always say that was ground zero for my career. I went from being a player who was well known in England to being well-known around the world and that is what this competition can do for you.”
Lineker is hoping England’s class of 2018 defy their doubters to shine at this summer’s World Cup, but he admits there are a few too many questions hanging over Gareth Southgate’s side.
“We are a little bit short in midfield, a little bit short at the back and I’m worried about the lack of experience we have with the goalkeepers,” adds Lineker.
“It’s a big ask to win a World Cup with a hugely inexperienced team that has huge issues in key areas and I think we have to be realistic about the expectations around this England team.
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“If we could get to the knock-out stage, if we could win a game in that second phase of the competition, that would be a huge step forward at this stage. That is the way we should look at England this time.
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“It all feels very relaxed going into the tournament and while some people think they might not care enough, but that is not the case from my experience.
“Despite all the negativity from the media around the England squad at the 1986 World Cup and four years later in Italy, when we got to the semi-finals and could have won it, the mood among the players on both trips was excellent and I get a feeling it is similar with this group.
“Let’s see if they can win the Tunisia game, build some momentum and see where it takes us. Maybe England can surprise us all.”
Gary Lineker is fronting the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup finals, with England v Tunisia live on BBC 1 on Monday night.