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EPL TALK: Three Lions must leave now for sake of their careers

They're linchpins of England, but Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Harry Maguire have reached crossroads in their club careers

England internationals (from left) Declan Rice, Harry Kane and Harry Maguire. (PHOTOS: Getty Images)
England internationals (from left) Declan Rice, Harry Kane and Harry Maguire. (PHOTOS: Getty Images)

HARRY Kane shares an obsession with England. Win a trophy. Any trophy. Throw the monkey off the back. End the conversation and be more than a quirky pub quiz question. Pander to one’s innate talent. Earn what’s right.

Kane’s extraordinary ability has become Peter Parker’s spider bite. His gift. His curse. Who is he? He’s the greatest striker not to lift anything. His latest record – surpassing Wayne Rooney’s haul by scoring a 54th goal for England – feels like window dressing around an empty house. Like the Three Lions, he’s more than the platitudes, back slaps and framed mementoes. He’s a winner without a win that matters.

The same is true of England: a prized collection without a prize. Already, the caveats are coming thick and fast… Kane’s penalty was emphatic, but won’t make up for his World Cup 2022 miss … England’s first win in Italy since 1961 doesn’t cover for no tournament wins since 1966… Kane’s record-breaking exploits for his club and now his country will not silence those seeking trophy justice.

He must change club. Obviously. When he returns to Tottenham Hotspur next week, he morphs back into the Hulk, a superior being to those around him. He’s outgrown his Spurs jersey. He’s too big for his Tottenham boots.

And he’s not alone either. He’s one of Three Lions who must move on in the summer, for different reasons but hopefully the same outcome: to maximise limited time or resources. Declan Rice and Harry Maguire should also mangle JFK’s famous speech and ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can realistically can do for their clubs.

England’s fine win in Naples only underlined Kane’s straightforward case for a delayed departure from North London. His efficiency around the penalty box is rivalled by Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski, but he out-passes both. He distributes like a midfielder, assists like a No.10 and scores a range of goals to rival Alan Shearer.

Spluttering Spurs should contain his ambition no longer.

But it was England’s opener that highlighted another performer whose part is now bigger than his club stage. From Bukayo Sako’s corner, Kane’s shot broke for Rice. His neat spin and finish routine was a formality.

Rice played better because he played with better players. Sometimes, it’s no more complicated than that, despite Graeme Souness’ and Roy Keane’s criticisms of the restless midfielder. For England, Rice has Saka taking corners and Kane providing assists. He’s a near first among equals. For West Ham United, he’s greater than the sum of the other parts.

Undoubtedly, Rice’s form has dipped this season, but only in tandem with a regressing squad losing patience with the incorrigible sceptic in the dugout.

England's Jude Bellingham (centre) in action with Italy's Jorginho (left) and Italy's Giovanni di Lorenzo.
England's Jude Bellingham (centre) in action with Italy's Jorginho (left) and Italy's Giovanni di Lorenzo. (PHOTO: Reuters/Ciro De Luca)

Leaving a big club to save career

David Moyes might have approved of Gareth Southgate’s more restrained approach in the second-half, as the Three Lions protected their three points. But England were hanging on to a slim lead in Italy. Rice finds himself pinned back at home against Aston Villa.

In a stellar first-half against Italy, Rice resembled another West Ham skipper in an England jersey; striding forward, head up, confident in possession and looking to thread another needle. But Bobby Moore won stuff, for club and country. Rice is unlikely to achieve either, if he remains in East London.

Kane can still score goals and break records for Tottenham. Rice can’t do much at West Ham beyond carrying out the instructions of a manager who treats attacking types like Scrooge counting pennies at Christmas. Moyes has them in his pocket. He’d just rather keep them there.

Moyes left Rice cruelly exposed against Brighton and Hove Albion recently, allowing the Seagulls to dump on the isolated midfielder. Four times. He’s playing too many West Ham games with a dodgy handicap. When it’s a fair fight, as it was against Italy, Rice can curtail a midfield of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella.

True greatness is just a transfer away.

And then there’s Maguire. Hapless Maguire. Yesterday’s man. Tomorrow’s cautionary tale. Take your pick. The burly defender is moving into his Arnold Schwarzenegger late-career phase; still useful for a cameo in a big, daft Carabao Cup caper, but box office returns are rapidly diminishing.

He was at fault for Italy’s goal. Of course he was. Fate has no sense of humour. Its major currency is cruelty. Maguire tried to win possession high up the pitch, but he was just too slow, the story of his life now. England’s defensive shape vanished. Maguire had left too big a gap. Mateo Retegui punished the guilty party accordingly.

And still, Maguire’s descent feels too rapid. Fate is cruel, but this is sadistic. The likeable 30-year-old is guilty of nothing other than a confidence wobble and the odd mobility issue. It happens. But the relentless vitriol seems unwarranted.

He’s got to leave Manchester United not to enhance his career, but to save it, to ensure he ends with the grace note his dignity deserves. His future is already bleak at Old Trafford. His England outlook may take on a similarly dark complexion if he doesn’t secure regular club football elsewhere and rediscover the consistency required at international level.

There was a role model for him to follow in Naples, a role model, in fact, for Maguire, Rice and Kane.

Inside the Diego Maradona Stadium, a No.10 lived up to the billing. Kane stole the headlines, but Jude Bellingham stole the show. The wisest head on the youngest shoulders defied his birth certificate again. How is this kid still just 19?

He controlled the Italians and the occasion with the same understated authority that appears to be controlling his career. After the season, Bellingham will leave Borussia Dortmund for a new club, one that befits his style and ambition. He will win trophies. The destination remains unknown, but that is all. There’s a certainty to his journey, a sense of inevitability even. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Bellingham is navigating the kind of career path that his ludicrous talent deserves. Kane, Rice and Maguire should take note. In this instance, the kid knows best.

Bellingham is navigating the kind of career path that his ludicrous talent deserves. Kane, Rice and Maguire should take note. In this instance, the kid knows best.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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