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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Harry Kane the link between the 'two worlds' of Tottenham and FA Cup opponents Rochdale

Spurs striker will be grateful for his League One experience, including a 17-minute cameo at Rochdale, for his evolution into the star he has become

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane has come up the hard way, and he will have an appreciation for the lower leagues. Paul Childs / Reuters
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane has come up the hard way, and he will have an appreciation for the lower leagues. Paul Childs / Reuters

“Two worlds collide,” Keith Hill said. His and Rochdale’s world is at the foot of League One, with an average attendance of 3,309 and an annual turnover of £5.5 million (Dh28.3m).

Tottenham Hotspur could pay that in a salary to one player. Their last home gate was 83,222. They may be in the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals.

One of these contrasting clubs will progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Dale have never been there. However, Tottenham’s premier talents have been to Spotland, Rochdale’s cramped home with its newly-relayed pitch.

They are reasons why there might not be an upset, players whose grounding at lower levels means they know what to expect.

“I look at Dele Alli and Harry Kane. I have got a lot of respect for them because they have played in League One,” Rochdale manager Hill added. Alli did so in his MK Dons days, Kane when borrowed by Leyton Orient.

Hill admires Spurs’ policy of giving emerging players a reality check. “They send players out on loan to League One or League Two to find out what it means to the working man or the journeyman,” he said.

“It is good they have players like Dele Alli and Harry Kane to remind the rest of the squad about grassroots football.”

Indeed, Kane spared Spurs an embarrassingly early exit at Newport in the fourth round. Now an ankle injury threatens his participation on Sunday. Mauricio Pochettino has suggested he could figure, if only for 20 minutes as a substitute.

It would be fitting if he does. His 200th Tottenham game could come at the place where it all began.

Go back seven years and an unknown 17-year-old made his senior debut as an Orient substitute at Rochdale, replacing a striker almost two decades his senior, the altogether more seasoned Scott McGleish. It was 1-1 when Kane came on and it finished 1-1 at the final whistle.

Some 2,731 spectators plus Hill, also Rochdale manager then, witnessed what proved an auspicious occasion, though they had few ways of knowing it.

Part of the remarkable element of Kane’s rise is that it came via places like Spotland and that he did not always stand out there: his 17-minute debut cameo appears to have been devoid of incidents.

But he was the catalyst for Tottenham’s fightback in Turin, the man who troubled Juventus on a night when Rochdale were losing to Bristol Rovers. Hill’s gaze alighted on another when he studied the footage. He is keen to point out, however, that he is not jumping on the Mousa Dembele bandwagon.

“I was talking about Dembele three or four years ago,” he said. “If I was Manchester City or Manchester United or Liverpool, I would look to sign him. He is the ideal midfielder, but I wouldn't swap him for Callum Camps.”

Rochdale manager Keith Hill has a lot of respect for Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images
Rochdale manager Keith Hill has a lot of respect for Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images

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Camps is Rochdale’s vice-captain and midfielder. He will play. If Kane and Alli do not, the World Cup winner Fernando Llorente and the £23m newcomer Lucas Moura might.

The odds are stacked against Rochdale as they look to succeed where Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Juventus have failed of late and beat Tottenham. The underdogs nevertheless draw encouragement from results this season. “We look at Coventry beating Stoke [City] and Wigan beating West Ham [United] and Bournemouth,” Hill said.

Rochdale have claimed Championship wins in his reign but they have not knocked top-flight opponents out of the FA Cup since 1971. Coventry, now a fourth-tier team, were their victims then.

Spurs have gone three decades without being eliminated by a side from the third or fourth flights. And now the men who learned their trade in the depths of the Football League act as their insurance policy against a similar shock.