If Dominic Calvert-Lewin has arguably the most thankless task in English football, he is not letting on.
The Everton striker, charged with the responsibility of playing back-up to possibly the finest centre-forward on the planet, refuses to stand idly by like a spare at a wedding. Which is precisely what England have been craving.
So, while Harry Kane dreams of bettering Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick’s wonder goal against Scotland on Monday, Calvert-Lewin holds out hope of displacing the Three Lions talisman at the point of Gareth Southgate’s attack.
It is all healthy competition — and as brilliant as Kane is, finding a replacement for the England captain has long been a problem Southgate has tried to resolve. As Kane’s energy levels dropped at the last World Cup in 2018, so did England’s potency.
Southgate plans to better manage the Tottenham striker’s minutes at these Euros — and to do so he needs an understudy who will allow England to keep their shape, while also maintaining a goal threat.
That is easier said than done when Kane is the headline act. But games like Sunday’s 1-0 win against Croatia underlined the need to have a Plan B, with Kane struggling to get involved or influence proceedings.
Calvert-Lewin came on with a minute to go, plus injury time, but he is hoping to play a much more significant role as the tournament progresses, regardless of Kane’s status as skipper and the first name on Southgate’s team sheet.
“I just make sure I am ready,” said the Everton striker. “Harry is the captain of the team and he is the man leading the line at the moment. At the start of the game I wish him all the best and want him to score. If he scores, more than likely we win games.
“My role is to just try to be as ready as I can for when I’m called upon.
“From a young boy I dreamed of playing for my country and coming to a major tournament, and as a young kid you dream of playing, perhaps not sitting on the bench. But if that’s my role, then so be it — and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. Only one player can play No9, so for me I’m ambitious. I’m 24, I’ve made my way into the England squad. We all have our own personal goals and ambitions. For me, it’s to lead the line for England.”
Southgate has made a point of trying to keep his entire squad engaged, whether players are in the starting XI or on the fringes. He and assistant Steve Holland have stressed the fact that the squad will be vital as the tournament progresses with key messaging.
There have been reminders that Marco van Basten was a substitute in Holland’s opening game at Euro 88 before going on to win the Golden Boot, likewise Toto Schillaci at Italia 90.
While it may be fanciful to imagine Calvert-Lewin becoming the leading scorer at these Euros, he could be invaluable as an effective alternative, especially with five substitutes permitted.
A lack of a viable replacements for Kane cost England in 2018, even with Jamie Vardy in the squad.
“Everybody in the squad has to be ready to be called upon,” Calvert-Lewin added. “I think that’s a given anyway, but now there are extra substitutions there’s more chance you could come on the pitch, regardless of what position you play. For me, as a forward, it’s always likely you’re going to get on the pitch to either help see a result out or to come on and affect the game. I’m prepared either way.”
While Calvert-Lewin is hoping to play some part against Scotland on Friday, Kane is already thinking about challenging the goal of the tournament so far, scored by Schick from just past the halfway line.
“It was probably the goal of the tournament,” said the Tottenham forward. “That will be a hard one to beat.
“Every now and then I will look for that one. The keepers today like to play as sweepers, waiting for that ball in between, so if there is a ricochet or an opening I like to try to look for that one. You never know, we might get another one [like Schick’s] this tournament.”