Some call the England manager’s role the impossible job, whilst others call it the hardest job in the world. Gareth Southgate seems to be making it look relatively easy – certainly very possible at any rate. That’s a different matter though, because both Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane might well argue that being your country’s captain, hero and record goalscorer is, in fact, an impossible (or certainly a thankless) task.

Rooney long took flak for not quite doing enough, flattering to deceive and perhaps not quite fulfilling his potential. That, despite the fact that he ended his career as the record goalscorer for both England and Manchester United!

Almost as soon as Tottenham striker Kane had taken the England record from Rooney, some fans were already criticising the forward. The former Arsenal youth player had also recently become Spurs’ record goalscorer too, surpassing the legendary Jimmy Greaves. But neither of these accomplishments were enough to please some fans, with the haters quick to point out that not all of Kane’s goals for England were against top-class opposition and that he might, along the way, have dared to score the odd penalty.

There is no denying that Kane is his country’s record international scorer. But is there truth in the idea that he might be a flat-track bully? What about the charge that a disproportionate number of his goals have been from the spot? Here we take a closer look at the Walthamstow-born player’s England goals.

Kane only scores penalties

Harry Kane Percentage of Goals Scored as Penalties

At the time of writing, prior to the next batch of England games in June 2023, Kane has 55 goals for the Three Lions from 82 games. That puts him ahead of Rooney (53 from 120) and Sir Bobby Charlton (49 from 106). It also puts him ever so slightly ahead of the next-best still-active player, Raheem Sterling, who has 20 goals from the same number of matches as Kane (82).

However, critics argue that the Spurs hitman has scored many of his international goals from the spot. That, of course, still takes some doing, but being granted a brilliant chance from 12 yards is certainly different to scoring from open play. So how many England penalties has he scored?

  • 55 goals in total
  • 22 penalties taken
  • 18 scored, 4 missed/saved
  • 33% of England goals from penalties
  • 81.8% conversion

The stats above do not include spot-kicks in shootouts. For reference Rooney was a perfect seven from seven for England from the spot, meaning he had a 100% conversion rate; and also that he scored just 13% of his goals from penalties. Bobby Charlton took just four England pennos, missing one, scoring a mere 6% of his international goals from the spot. England’s fourth-top scorer, Gary Lineker, took five penalties for the Three Lions, scoring four, those strikes representing just 8% of his England tally.

Kane only scores against weak teams

As well as the charge that many of his goals have been one-on-ones from 12 yards, many fans have suggested that Kane has bagged a high number of his goals against very poor opposition. Certainly if we look at his hat-tricks, this is borne out, although that is not necessarily surprising – few players bag trebles against Brazil, Germany or Italy.

However, Kane’s hat-tricks have come against Panama, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania and San Marino. Indeed, he got four against the last nation on that list, meaning over 29% of his goals came just in these matches. Kane is not just a flat-track bully though and has scored four times against Germany and three against France, as well as hitting the back of the net against the likes of Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.

However, if we look at some of the poorest nations he has scored against, we can see that he has bagged the majority of his goals against such sides. Obviously FIFA rankings are far from entirely accurate and change over time. Nonetheless, the goals listed below all came against nations not inside the world’s top 20 at the time of writing.

  • San Marino – 5
  • Albania – 4
  • Bulgaria – 4
  • Montenegro – 4
  • Panama – 3
  • Ukraine – 3
  • Czech Republic – 3
  • Kosovo – 2
  • Lithuania – 2
  • Malta – 2
  • Poland – 2
  • Tunisia – 2
  • Andorra – 1
  • Hungary – 1
  • Scotland – 1
  • Slovenia – 1
  • Turkey – 1

In total, that means that 41 of his 55 goals have come against these non-top 20 nations, with just 14 against the best nations around. So 75% of Kane’s goals have been against poorer nations. The tricky part here is how this compares to other England players, as we do not have any real comparisons, especially as the world rankings have changed so much over the years and, additionally, were only first compiled in 1992. Nonetheless, 75% certainly seems on the high side.

Competitive Juices

Those who make light of the two issues highlighted here often point to one particular facet of Kane’s goal record – the very high percentage of goals he has bagged in competitive games. His record at World Cup finals is especially impressive, with eight goals in 11 matches. That said, Lineker bagged 10 in World Cups.

Overall though, only six of his strikes have come in friendly internationals. He is by far the record scorer for the Three Lions in terms of competitive games. He has 49 goals from 69 such caps with a goal-to-game ratio of 0.71. Rooney’s stats read 36 goals from 74 appearances, strike rate of 0.49, whilst of the top 10 scorers, only Alan Shearer gets close to Kane’s ratio, bagging 0.68 goals per game (21 in 31).

There is a key caveat to this though, and that is that due to a huge expansion of the two major tournaments, both in terms of qualifying and the finals themselves, as well as the inception of the “competitive” Nations League. Kane has played a much higher percent of his matches in non-friendly games. His scoring rate is very good but England now play far more smaller teams in both qualifying and even at the tournament proper than they did in the past.

Conclusion: Make your own mind up!

It is often the case that stats can be used to “prove” any range of arguments, even opposing ones. Kane has scored the most England goals and also has the best strike-rate (and most goals) in competitive matches. That cannot be denied. At the same time, around a third of his goals have come from penalty kicks, a far bigger proportion than any other name of England’s leading hitmen. In addition, three quarters of his goals have come against nations beyond the top 20 in the world right now. To go further, 24, or 44%, have come against nations currently outside the top 65.

Does any of this matter? That’s up to you to determine, decide, debate and deliberate on. Comparisons with players of the past are often not really possible in a fair and meaningful way. One more thing we can be certain of, however, is that Kane has comfortably outscored all of his modern-day England colleagues.