Admittedly, English fans -- regularly, every four years -- find reasons for imagining that England might just win the whole thing. And regularly, every four years, those reasons are revealed as silly fan dreams as England flop again. So no one listens to that stuff any more. But ... Kane looks like the real deal ... a world-class goalscorer, and such a player has to be a difference maker.
Hence the outburst of concern on Sunday when Kane was injured in Tottenham’s game against Bournemouth. He hobbled off the field, not to return. So far Tottenham have not issued any medical reports. The concern is heightened by the fact that it was Kane’s right ankle that was hurt -- and he has had trouble with that joint before. It was a right-ankle injury that kept Kane sidelined for 10 games in 2016.
Kane’s injury was inflicted by Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. No foul was called. But I do not think this can be classified as yet another example of referees being easy on goalkeepers. This time, as I see it, the rules themselves are to blame.
These are the actions that occurred: at 28:18, a forward pass by Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen into the Bournemouth penalty area was chased by Kane. Begovic also came out to meet the ball. Begovic, Kane and the ball met up at the 6-yard line. Kane, clearly, got to the ball first -- he had got off his shot, the ball was on its way into the Bournemouth net, before Begovic arrived and slid into Kane. This challenge was certainly careless; in my view it was also reckless.
Down went Kane. A goal? If not a goal, a foul? A penalty kick? A red card? None of the above. The whole play was nixed because Kane was offside. A quick -- and correct -- call from the AR. His flag went up very quickly. The key, though, is not the AR’s flag but the referee’s whistle. When did that sound? I think we can assume it sounded as soon as the flag went up. I’m saying that because no Spurs player made a big deal of the incident, least of all Kane.
Well, he wouldn’t, because he was on his backside, nursing his ankle. On came the physio, to dispense a minute and a half of treatment on the field, then Kane limped off, and down the tunnel.
The game restarted with a free kick to Bournemouth (given for Kane’s offside violation). So there was no foul. Even though we’d all seen a rash and dangerous slide tackle by Begovic.
Begovic was escaping because he so badly mis-timed things that his challenge arrived after referee Mike Dean had blown for offside. And -- even though you won’t find it specified in the rule book (at least, I can’t find it) -- the rule is that a foul can only be called if the ball is in play.
I listened to the TV commentators, and have since read numerous reports on the action, and opinions from pundits. All of them understandably concerned at the prospect of Kane not being available for Russia, but not a one of those guys took issue with the goalkeeper’s action.
So it appears that Begovic escaped punishment -- and Bournemouth escaped giving up a penalty -- by a split second or so -- something that it is almost impossible to measure. My repeated viewings of replays of the incident tell me that the flag was aloft a fraction of a second after Kane got his shot away. Which was also just about the moment when Begovic was clattering into Kane.
It seems so absurd that a player can commit a dangerous physical foul (one that might -- as may be the case with this one -- have serious consequences) yet the rules declare that the foul simply never existed. In this case, it happened after the referee’s whistle (though it must be pointed out that Begovic’s sliding motion probably began before the whistle). So we’re confronted with a rule book invention: the phantom foul.
That is wacky enough, but it is really much worse as the referee is being asked to make a judgment involving microseconds, a judgment that he simply cannot make. Maybe VAR could solve this one. But even if VAR could, they would still be deciding, by a fraction of a second measurement, whether or not Begovic committed a bad foul.
The foul was there for all to see. Kane was injured. For the rules to make out those things didn’t happen is surely ridiculous. It would be reassuring to know that IFAB was looking into the matter of the rule-book-created phantom foul. But, safely assuming that IFAB will act with its usual alertness, that will not be happening any time soon.