How do you solve a problem like Harry? Overlooked England talent could hold the answer

Gareth Southgate needs to get his captain firing… and fast.

Harry Kane. (Photo by Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images)
Harry Kane. (Photo by Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images)

Let’s all take a deep breath, and try to gain some perspective here.

Yes, England’s performance against Scotland at Wembley on Friday night was about as scintillating, appealing, and cohesive as a bathtub filled to the brim with tepid alphabetti spaghetti.

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And yes, anybody watching that dreary slugfest yesterday evening who still genuinely believes football is “coming home” will presumably have to make space for the beautiful game in the guest room of their padded cell.

Jadon Sancho during an England training session at St George's Park. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

But, all things considered, the situation could be worse.

For starters, Gareth Southgate’s men are still on the cusp of making it into the last 16. Sure, they’re not going to go crashing through the doors of the knockout rounds mounted atop a red and white dragon wielding sabres made of lightning, but at least they should still be there, and if the 2018 World Cup taught us anything, it’s that low expectations and a unified sense of national disbelief can carry you a long way.

Secondly, the European Championships – much more than a World Cup – are a tournament in which you can occasionally afford to scrape and grind your way to a modicum of success. Let’s not forget that Portugal, defending champions with a frontline so chock-full of icons it makes Mount Rushmore look like an identity parade for a minor shoplifting offence, won just one single game in normal time back in 2016.

Do you think they were bothered at all by the stigmatised anti-football accusations that were catapulted at them in the days and weeks that followed? Of course not.

Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but the point stands that one underwhelming result – especially against a historic rival with a point to prove, a rampant Tartan Army willing them on, and sprinkling of top drawer talent at their disposal – isn't the biggest disaster in the world.

In some ways, it may even be a blessing in disguise – the catalyst that puts a spark under the figurative backsides of Southgate’s squad.

For all of the raging optimism (some might say naivety) in the world, however, things will only get better for England if their star assets start firing – and in particular, Harry Kane.

The skipper spent most of last night’s match wandering around looking like his limbs were made of play dough, and the big concern here is that he’s running out of steam after a season in which he has routinely done an impression of a runaway steam train.

Top of the goal-scoring charts in the Premier League, top of the assists tally, arguably robbed of a Player of the Year award, the 27-year-old has so far shown absolutely none of that form since the Euros kicked off.

Altogether he’s had two shots in 157 minutes of open play, neither of which have hit the target, and his total action success rate – the number of things he’s successfully attempted per 90 minutes – currently sits at 37.5%, a full 10% beneath his season average.

But how do you solve a problem like Harry? Well, at the risk appearing to shift the blame too much, perhaps it would be a good idea to look at the service, or lack thereof, that he’s getting.

In both of England’s matches so far, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden have started out wide, to varying degrees of success.

The former might have scored the winner against Croatia, but he was far less effective against Scotland on Friday, completing just two of his six attempted dribbles, and the latter still hasn’t managed to hit his stride properly, despite paying his best Stars In Their Eyes tribute to Paul Gascoigne. One bottle of peroxide does not a world-beater make.

Jack Grealish and his granite calves finally got on the pitch against Steve Clarke’s men, but again, the Aston Villa talisman was stifled by a defence doing their best 11-man impression of a fire blanket.

Perhaps the most baffling decision of all, however, was Southgate’s insistence on leaving Jadon Sancho on the bench throughout. Granted, few would have tipped him for a start last night, and nor is this a holier than thou rant about how he’s being unfairly overlooked – twice I’ve left him out of my predicted XIs in NationalWorld columns this tournament.

But when you’re watching a team continually butt their heads against a tartan brick wall time and time again, it gets to a point where you have to ask if there’s anybody in England’s ranks who possesses the cunning and the pizzazz to find another way through.

Grealish was one such option, yes, but so was Sancho.

This is a player who registered 36 goal involvements in 38 games across all competitions for Borussia Dortmund last season, including 20 assists. If he’d recorded those sorts of figures while playing for an English club and Southgate showed the gall and the gumption to leave him out, there’d be a baying mob climbing the gates of St. George’s Park as we speak.

Given how flat England looked at times last night, it would be inhuman of the manager to not be at least considering his alternatives, and if he’s looking for a creative talent who might just be able to put a spring in his captain’s step again and a tap-in on his proverbial silver platter, then perhaps Sancho is the man he should turn to.