England have got a problem with Harry Kane — but it’s nothing to do with all the uninformed nonsense about his fitness.
To me, there’s a real issue of his role in the team, in the way Gareth Southgate sets up.
And I believe the solution comes from him being more selfless.
I know his game has evolved this season, to drop deeper, to become more of a playmaker, and be far more involved in the build-up and dictate the game.
You can see he wants to do that, because he’s had a great season doing it.
But the way England played against Scotland, they were crying out for the centre-forward to occupy the centre-halves, push the opposition defence deeper and stretch the pitch to create space for others.
The way the Scottish defence were set up – and when they were playing as well as they did – they didn’t mind in the slightest Kane dropping deep.
It meant they could stay compact, play the game in front of them. See everything in front.
So it was crying out for him to stay up and give the defenders something to think about, play off the shoulder of one, bring the other one in to cover…and create space for others to use.
To put it bluntly, it means he can’t try to be the hero all the time.
That’s sometimes a selfless role, because it may be he has to sacrifice himself for the team.
I get he’s the captain, he’s a playmaker, he wants to be involved and show he’s the leader. Just show up in the game.
But actually, as well as he’s done that this season, there are others in the squad who can do it better…others who are there to do that job, while Harry Kane is still selected to score goals.
Mason Mount has real quality in that role, Phil Foden too.
Jack Grealish can do it, and Marcus Rashford. Look, I know the reaction will be ‘he’s too slow’, he can’t play off the shoulder, he can’t do this or that.
But his record says he can. And it says he’s one of the best in the world at doing it.
He’s proved it for years – and you can’t argue with that record. I know from my own career, it’s not just about pace. It’s about intelligence of movement, it’s about anticipating before the defender, reading the game.
And I’ve seen that Kane has that, he is a step ahead of the defender in his thinking.
He can panic them with the intelligence of his play, make them worry about what he is going to do. And that occupies them.
It’s a tough one for him. It means not being the hero, not being the focal point. Sometimes being taken out of the game so others can come into it.
I know as I got older, I started to drop deeper, because I didn’t feel I had that half a yard any more to run in behind. I could do it too, play passes, bring others in.
But I always felt I was getting in the way dropping deeper, that others could do it better.
I don’t think Harry is at that stage. I’ve watched him a lot this season, and the movement is still there, the instinct in the box. The ability to work the centre-halves and keep them occupied. Against Scotland, it wasn’t working him dropping deeper.
Foden and Sterling weren’t getting in behind, the Scots’ defence wasn’t being pulled out.
They just said, ‘you can have the ball there, we’re fine where we are’.
So if it didn’t work, then try the opposite. Push Kane right up, occupy them. Give the opposition defence a different set of problems.
It never happened. And that worries me about England.
Even when Harry went off, he was replaced by Rashford, who also dropped deep, never pushed the Scots’ defence.
And that’s what I don’t like about Southgate’s England. They’re a bit two dimensional. Pedestrian. There’s no freedom in their play, no ability to try different things.
I don’t know whether that comes from the manager or a lack of identity in the team. I think with the players they’ve got, there surely has to be more expression, more ability for the players themselves to make decisions on the pitch. I didn’t like how Southgate stuck with two holding midfielders, even with all the possession they enjoyed.
It seemed as though they didn’t want to lose, rather than win.
And OK, that’s fair enough, because the point means they’re more or less through.
But c’mon. Playing that way ain’t going to win you trophies.
To be European champions, you have to be outstanding. Unbelievable. You have to play without fear, and be able to adapt to what’s happening on the pitch instantly, with players taking their own responsibility.
Sadly, I didn’t see any of that from Southgate’s team.
I’m not one of these people who think Rafa Benitez is committing some sort of sacrilege by expressing an interest in the Everton job.
It’s his prerogative and if he believes it would be a good job for him, he’s earned the right through a great career as a boss to do that.
He doesn’t owe Liverpool anything, even though he has a close bond with the fans. He was sacked by them, remember. After incredible service. So he has the right to do what he wants.
But I’m not so sure it’s as simple on the Everton side. I can sense there is a lot of resistance. It’s a brave owner who makes that call.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about this tournament is the referees and the use of VAR.
It is so refreshing to see them make decisions quickly, not hold the play up for an age. And refreshing for their common sense over VAR.
There was an incident during the England-Scotland game, when Raheem Sterling had his toe stood on by Andy Robertson in the box and went down like a sack of the proverbial.
I can guarantee, in the Premier League, it would have definitely been ruled a penalty by VAR.
In the Euros, though, they seem to actually be applying the guidelines – which is to only overrule if it is a blindingly obvious mistake.
And know the game enough to realise when penalties are being bought.
There’s only been one bad VAR decision given so far, the penalty against Dejan Lovren for the Czech Republic. It wasn’t a penalty.
I don’t know, but I suspect there may have been English officials in the VAR booth that afternoon!