Kane May Overtake Goals of Jimmy Greaves But Not The Legend

England Striker Jimmy Greaves Outpaces a Uruguay Defender at Wembley Stadium

As all Arsenal fans know to their cost, Harry Kane is already the all-time top scorer in North London derbies, but ahead of this weekend’s NLD he has the chance to become the all-time top scorer for Tottenham Hotspur because he is now just one goal behind Jimmy Greaves’s club record of 266 goals. However, even if, or rather when, Kane breaks Greaves’s record haul of goals for Spurs, there is no chance that he will ever match, let alone overtake, “Greavesie’s” legendary status, not just at Tottenham but in English football history as a whole.

Harry Kane Would Be The First To Admit It

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To be fair to Kane, he would probably be the first to admit that. A fundamentally decent and fair-minded individual, he would surely acknowledge that Greaves was not just a greater goal-scorer than him but a greater all-round striker. Then again, with the possible exception of one other player in world football history (who the article will come to later), almost every other forward would have to say the same.

The fact is that Jimmy Greaves is one of the greatest ever players in English football history, a status that even his remarkable goal-scoring statistics – he is the all-time top scorer in the English top flight (whatever it is called) with 357 league goals in 516 league matches – can only begin to hint at. That was partly because, unlike Kane, he possessed the one quality that every truly great striker possesses – pace.

Chelsea, Milan, and Spurs

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As a teenager in the late 1950s at his first club, Chelsea, Greaves was bewilderingly quick, often easily outpacing defenders, even on the utterly appalling pitches of the time, which are often forgotten about when the legends of yesteryear are compared to the best players of today. It was that pace, allied to the astonishing precision of his finishing, that led AC Milan to pay the then incredible sum of £80,000 to secure his services in 1961.

Just like Ian Rush, another truly great British goal-scorer who went to Serie A in the 1980s, Greaves failed to settle properly in Italy and returned home after just a single season. Indeed, it was even said that he tried to pull out of the move to Milan after it was agreed. Nevertheless, unlike Rush in 1987-88, Greaves performed well in his even briefer spell in Italy, scoring nine goals in 10 league matches, at a time when Italian football, always defensive in nature, was adopting the ultra-defensive football of the Catenaccio era, which lasted throughout the rest of the 1960s.

What Might Unite Kane and Greaves

If there is one thing that unites Kane and Greaves, it might be that, however illustrious their careers and especially their goal-scoring feats, they finish playing with a sense of regret, not that they didn’t make the most of their own ability but that they never played in a side that could also maximise that ability.

Kane, of course, is yet to win anything other than individual honours with Spurs. Greaves certainly did win things in the 1960s at the club, with whom he spent almost the entire decade after moving back to England from Italy. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the far greater competitiveness of English football in the 1960s (a decade in which no fewer than eight different teams won the League title) compared to now, Greaves “only” won two FA Cups (in 1962 and 1967) and one European trophy (the first ever won by an English club), the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1963.

Greaves had the misfortune of joining Tottenham after they had already reached their absolute peak, which was one of the greatest peaks ever reached by an English football team, when they won the League and Cup Double in 1961, becoming the first English side to do so in the 20th century. Doubles have become so commonplace since that, as with the appalling nature of earlier football pitches, it is easy to forget what a monumental achievement that was. Unfortunately for Greaves, however, rather than being a part of it, he was feeling lonely and homesick in Milan.

World Cup Disappointment For Both

Of course, the greatest regret for Greaves came later in the decade, when injury early in the tournament forced him out of Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup-winning side. Instead, it was Geoff Hurst who scored the famous hat-trick in the final (only matched last month, more than half a century later, by Kylian Mbappé) and the footballing immortality that went with it. Greaves later admitted that missing out on such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity left him with a perpetual sense of regret and even contributed to the alcoholism that consumed him after he retired from playing in the early 1970s.

Fortunately for Kane, there is little or no chance of him following suit in that regard. However, having now played in two World Cups and failed at the bitter end of both (missing a key chance when England was one up in the semi-final against Croatia in 2018 and then failing to score his second penalty in the quarter-final defeat to France in Qatar), like Greaves he may end up looking back on the world’s greatest football tournament with decidedly mixed feelings.

The Only Goal-Scorer Greater Than Jimmy Greaves

Perhaps it is the ultimate tribute to the greatness of Jimmy Greaves that, despite not playing in the Spurs Double-winning side in 1961 and then missing out on World Cup glory five years later, his own reputation as a player remains so stellar. Indeed, in the entire global history of football, there is probably only one player who surpasses him as a pure goal-scorer and that is Gerd Muller of Bayern Munich and West Germany.

Many football historians would argue that Greaves was faster and more skilful than Muller, but Muller had the great fortune to play at the club and international levels in sides that absolutely maximised his goal-scoring ability. Indeed, they did so to the extent that Muller set a record that will almost certainly never be matched, let alone overtaken, scoring (usually the winner) in the four biggest finals in football in just four years: the European Championship Final (1972); the European Cup Final and World Cup Final (both 1974); and the World Club Final (1976).

The Other Thing Greaves and Muller Had In Common

Intriguingly, just like Greaves, Muller succumbed to alcoholism after he stopped playing but, again like Greaves, ultimately overcame it. In Greaves’s case, after a “lost decade” in the 1970s he recovered to become arguably the most astute and certainly the most high-profile English football pundit in the 1980s. Muller needed a little more help from his friends, after Franz Beckenbauer and other former team-mates literally staged an “intervention” to rescue him and restore him to a coaching position at Bayern.

Harry Kane can be thankful that whatever happens to him throughout the rest of his career, he will almost certainly never succumb to the alcoholism that wrought such devastation on both Greaves and Muller. In large part, that is down to the infinitely greater sums that he has earned throughout his career compared to his famous predecessors. Equally, however, it is another reason why, despite his own excellence as a player and goal-scorer, he will never achieve the mythical status of Jimmy Greaves or Gerd Muller. They not only scored more goals than him but also fought back from depths that he, thankfully, will never have to plummet.