Readers, you and I are going to make a few circles with this piece. I’m going to make a point, you’re going to call me silly, and then I’ll explain it and you’ll (hopefully) call me less silly, but (hopefully) a lot more weird.
Ready? Promise not to kick off on social media before you’ve read everything? Ok, let me put this point in italics so it looks nice when you go back on your word, screenshot and call me an idiot anyway.
You’re reluctant to call Harry Kane 'World Class' because of FIFA.
Allow me to reel off a few statistics about Tottenham Hotspurs’ number ten and the diamond tip of their high pressing, hard countering spear (all thankfully sourced from WhoScored.com writer Ben McAleer).
Harry Kane finished the 17/18 Premier League season as top scorer with 29 goals.
The Golden Boot award was his second, having ended the 16/17 season with 25 goals.
Over the past three seasons, Harry Kane has scored 75 goals in the Premier League. That's five more than Sergio Aguero and 22 more than anyone else.
Harry Kane is only the fourth man to win back-to-back Golden Boots, following in the footsteps of Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.
Only 46 players scored more than 15 league goals in Europe’s five leagues in the 17/18 season, only three – Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani and Alexandre Lacazette – scored more frequently than Kane, meaning Kane scored his 29 goals at a better rate than the likes of Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Aguero.
Put glibly, Harry Kane is really, REALLY good at football. Statistically speaking, he’s one of the best strikers in the world, so why are so many football fans reluctant to give him the much desired (although ultimately meaningless) tag of “World Class”?
"Could it be we don’t call Harry Kane “World Class” because he’s not very good to use in FIFA?"
Could it be that Harry Kane’s nationality plays a factor, with global football preferring its strikers with a bit more Continental or South American flair?
Could it be that Harry Kane does it for a Tottenham side, that while nice to watch, is still yet to win any silverwear, making all his goals a bit for naught?
Could it be that Harry Kane’s nice, genial, friendly but not quite verbose nature leads us all to believe he’s a bit...dim?
Or could it be we don’t call Harry Kane “World Class” because he’s not very good to use in FIFA?
Media has forever changed our perception of sports. In America, radio broadcasts of baseball games turned the pastime into the nation’s favourite sport in the 1910s, allowing fans outside of the stadium to follow along with the game instead of wait for reports in next day’s newspaper. Television revolutionised NFL, with commissioners adding pomp, circumstance, cheerleader and rule changes to make American football more telegenic. Imagine watching a sport without instant replay? That was television’s doing.
Football saw these great leaps, with the game updating itself for TV and radio. For the 2014 World Club teams had to wear kits of one colour block: one side played in darker colours, one in lighter colours, so viewers on TV could pick out the action easier.
However dear reader, let me posit to you the newest media to cause a shift in how we perceive sport - videogames.
"FIFA is the most ubiquitous bit of sports media and something that is gradually shaping our understanding of the game."
FIFA is the biggest videogame franchise in the world. Selling over a 100 million copies throughout its history, the series has been localised in over 18 languages and is available in 51 countries. The FIFA game series is perhaps the most ubiquitous bit of sports media football fans consume outside of watching football, and something that is gradually shaping our understanding of the game.
Sports games often at their most rewarding when they replicate the spectacle of sport as seen on television, rather than the actual action within the sport - it’s for this reason Pro Evolution Soccer has an army of modders helping make their kits more realistic - PES’ gameplay is a near perfect simulation of how football is played, it fails in how it presents how football is watched.
In videogames, football players, kits and commentary have to look like how we watch them on television, or we lose interest.
And so very often the football we get to watch on television features the fastest, strongest and most expressive versions of the sport.
All things Harry Kane is not.
In the FIFA games, pace is king. For years the game has seen the fastest players be the most dangerous. While it's all well and good putting together intricate passing moves, in the world of FIFA, there are few better ways to score than with a rapid counter attack. It’s why every squad on FIFA Ultimate Team has Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Jamie Vardy up front.
In FIFA, the fastest players are the best. So in turn the best players became the fastest, even when they are not that fast in real life, as in the case in German forward Thomas Muller.
Muller, much like Kane has a play style that values timing and positioning, rather that strength of speed. While the German described himself as “an interpreter of space”, the layman would say he‘s “good at being at the right place at the right time” - something that is rather hard to code in FIFA.
In an ESPN interview last year Michael Mueller-Moehring, one of the individuals behind FIFA ratings explained the phenomenon: “A case is Thomas Muller, who isn't good at anything, really, apart from his positioning. He always finds the right spot on the pitch, it's amazing. But he's not a great dribbler and he can't really strike the ball properly -- his finishing is sometimes really, really off. Shot power is not his strength as well. So if you rate Thomas Muller properly, he ends up with a rating that we say doesn't make sense. It's too low."
So when FIFA 17 came along, what did the game designers do with Thomas Muller? They made him faster than what was in real life, in order to maintain our perception of him being one of the best forwards in the world.
So for Harry Kane, while he is an effective striker, he is not so much one you put on a highlight reel in a glossy television package. He scores his goals by running the channels well, working hard and having a shot that his high on top spin, which allows him to score with hard, low strikes to corners of the goal. All well and good, but Harry is not a speedy striker, neither is he especially strong, or expressive in his dribbling, which are all things that are especially valued in the FIFA video games.
And as FIFA is the medium that best shapes our football experience, it's Harry's weird playstyle that makes so many fans reluctant to call him World Class.
Harry Kane may one day become a World Class striker, but not before FIFA gives him a speed boost in time for FIFA 18.