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Harry Kane’s relentless drive key to record-breaking 2017

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LONDON — Harry Kane‘s record-breaking 2017 wouldn’t be possible without one thing: his relentless drive.

Kane, 24, scored 39 Premier League goals in the calendar year to break Alan Shearer’s record as the Tottenham Hotspur forward bagged a hat trick at Wembley on Boxing Day to break the record in style.

More impressive than his penchant for scoring goals of all types, leading the line tirelessly and dropping deeper to open up space for others to exploit is his drive and determination to get even better in 2018.

After bursting onto the scene in 2014-15 following various loan spells at lower-tier clubs, Kane was dubbed a “one season wonder” by opposition fans across the Premier League. Kane now has two-straight Golden Boots in the PL and is on course for a third-straight as well as being England’s main man, and probably their captain, at the 2018 World Cup next summer, plus driving Spurs on in the knockout stages in the UEFA Champions League.

The doubters fueled his determination to become the leading marksman on the planet in 2017, a year which also saw him as the only Englishman nominated for the Ballon d’Or.

“Does that still spur me on? Probably, it’s always in the back of my mind,” Kane told reporters in the tunnel area at Wembley on Boxing Day. “I’ve always said that when people doubt me I want to prove them wrong whether it’s at a young age or now, that’s just my mindset, something in me since a young age. I’ll keep getting better, keep trying to improve. I’ll keep doing it for nine, 10 seasons and see where it takes me.”

Kane’s record of 56 goals in 52 appearances for club and country in 2017 surpasses what Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Roberto Lewandowski and Edinson Cavani have achieved. He’s top of the tree in the soccer pantheon right now, in terms of goals and attacking play, and that’s where he plans to stay for the next decade.

“When you look at Messi and Ronaldo, I’ve obviously still got a long way to go before I can be compared to them but it’s a start and that’s what I want to do, keep improving and be up there one day,” Kane said. “That’s always the goal, to be bracketed with the best players in the world. Messi and Ronaldo have set that standard for so long now. To nick ahead is something I’m proud of and it’s just the start for me. I want to do it year in, year out. They’ve done it for eight, nine years now so be classed in that bracket, that’s what I’ve got to do. That’s my aim.”

His manager at Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino, waxed lyrical about Kane’s achievements in 2017 and believes he is now “in the same company” of Ronaldo and Messi because of the hard work and dedication the Englishman puts into training each and every day.

Kane is humble and focused when he talks to the media, with his latest match ball for a treble being held by a Spurs employee in a plastic bag as he smiled and joked about what he had for his Christmas dinner.

He is efficient and deadly when he plays. You never see him in trouble in the tabloids. Off the pitch he is totally dedicated to getting the best out of his career. He is, in many respects, the complete package and the epitome of a role model to not only youngsters but current pros and his teammates.

I remember just before he burst onto the scene, he was given a run in Spurs’ first team by Tim Sherwood at the end of the 2013-14 season. In one game he suffered a head injury. Kane raced over to the touchline to get his head bandaged up and a new shirt on and was desperate to get back on the pitch and help out his team as Sherwood barked out orders.

After Kane’s hat trick on Boxing Day his teammates spoke to the media in the tunnel area of Wembley and were somewhat in awe of his achievements in 2017.

Tottenham’s captain Hugo Lloris, who has played with the likes of Thierry Henry and Antoine Griezmann among many other great forwards in his career, believes Kane is the best.

“I’ve never played with a striker capable of scoring so many goals in a year. I’ve played with a lot of top strikers and probably he is the best I’ve played with,” Lloris said. “He deserves all the praise at the moment. Now the most difficult part is coming because he needs to stick at this level. But with his mentality and quality I have no doubt he will do that. He is one of the best and he is going to keep showing it.”

Lloris continued: “If he scores one goal in a game, he wants two or three. This is his mentality. He’s a goal machine. It’s his target. When he enters the pitch, he focuses on that. His job is to score goals and it’s his mentality every day. The perception from outside is different now. He has more attention from the fans and media. But he has a good head on his shoulders and a lot of humility and that’s the key. He will keep working hard and I’m sure he will break more records if he does.”

Dele Alli, so often Kane’s partner in crime, told Pro Soccer Talk that Kane could break more records in 2018.

“Harry is one of those players that just because he’s broken one record, he’s not going to stop now,” Alli smiled. “He is going to keep going and working hard every day. Who knows, next year in 2018 he might break it again.”

Kane’s incredible goalscoring record is only half the story. His dedication and relentless drive to burst onto the scene in his early 20s is what is driving him to be among the best on the planet.

The conversation about whether or not he is world class is over. Now he is trying to prove he’s the best center forward on the planet.

Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.

Injuries aren’t halting Red Bulls from proving to be MLS’ top club

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It would have been understandable if the New York Red Bulls dropped their heads in agony last month after the club’s disappointing CONCACAF Champions League defeat to eventual tournament winners Chivas de Guadalajara.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Vieira close to signing contract with Nice ]

That wasn’t the case though, and for manager Jesse Marsch and Co., the club has been rewarded in the biggest of ways for its perseverance.

Sunday night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United proved once again in 2018 that this season’s Red Bulls are the class of MLS for a number of reasons.

The team’s 7-3-0 start is its best in modern Red Bulls history, which dates back nine seasons to when Red Bull Arena was first opened in 2010.

Marsch and his group currently ride a four-match win streak, which includes away wins over LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Atlanta, with a 4-0 beatdown of rivals New York City FC bunched in the middle of the road trip.

It’s easy to look at wins and losses to determine which teams are serious MLS Cup contenders and others that will struggle throughout the season, but when diving deeper into this Red Bulls team, there are a lot of special qualities that make them different than previous years.

Heading into 2018, questions surrounded the team following Sacha Kljestan’s departure for Orlando City, as well as the club’s ability to defend with a back line that didn’t appear to have much depth.

The Kljestan question has not only been answered, but turned into Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra becoming a household MLS name and legitimate MVP and Newcomer of the Year candidate.

The Argentine (possibly turning Paraguayan) leads MLS in assists (9) through the Red Bulls first 10 matches, after Kljestan posted 17 for the club during the 2017 campaign.

Kaku is a spark plug that manages to find himself in the right positions on the field at any given moment, and his work rate perfectly matches what Marsch his instilled in the squad since the moment he first arrived.

Defensively, the Red Bulls have far exceeded expectations, conceding the fourth-fewest goals (12) in MLS, despite a host of injuries.

Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence went down with a scary injury on Sunday, leaving his immediate availability with the club unknown, while Homegrown player Kyle Duncan will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Tyler Adams also went down with an injury against Atlanta, however, it isn’t believed to be serious.

That’s not including outside back Connor Lade, who has battled an ankle injury early in the 2018 campaign as well.

While the addition of Kaku has paid dividends in the biggest of ways in the attack though, it was the Red Bulls ability to bring in center back Tim Parker from the Vancouver Whitecaps that has really changed the team’s outlook at the back.

Parker has formed a strong bond with fellow central defensive partner Aaron Long, and the two are easily the best center back pairing in MLS through the opening two-plus months.

The bigger test for the club in the long-term will be if Lawrence does miss significant playing time, though.

That would force Marsch to rely more on Lade, who only returned from injury on Sunday to replace Lawrence, or young outside back Ethan Kutler, unless the Red Bulls manager opts to switch to a three-back system (as he has done in the past).

The Red Bulls will have to also battle through the concerns that come with the World Cup this summer, which will likely force defenders Michael Murillo and Fidel Escobar to leave the squad for their Panama national team duties.

Nainggolan ends Belgium career after World Cup snub

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As World Cup squads fill out their rosters ahead of next month’s great tournament in Russia, a number of high-profile names won’t feature at the World Cup.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

Belgium named its 28-man provisional squad on Monday, which includes Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, however, one notable midfielder was left out of Roberto Martinez’s squad.

Radja Nainggolan won’t be on the plane to Russia next month for the Red Devils, who take on England, Panama and Tunisia in the group stage.

That decision by Martinez has prompted the AS Roma midfielder to end his international career, which Nainggolan revealed in a social media post following the announcement.

Martinez commented on the Roma player’s omission from the roster.

“Radja is a top player,” Martinez said. “The reason is tactical. In the last two years the team has worked in a specific manner. Other players had those roles.

“We know that he has a very important role in his club and we cannot give him that role in our squad.”

Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal

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Unai Emery will be the next man up for Arsenal, with the BBC calling it a “unanimous choice” from Arsenal’s search committee.

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The BBC’s David Ornstein is reporting that Arsenal will appoint the ex-PSG and Sevilla boss as its new manager.

Emery had massive success with Sevilla in tournament and league play, and led PSG on a rollicking run through Ligue 1 but was deemed replaceable thanks to a Neymar-less loss in the UEFA Champions League.

The Basque manager will be the first Arsenal manager not named Arsene Wenger since the Frenchman took over at the Emirates on Oct. 1, 1996.

It feels a natural fit, as Emery has had success with multiple systems at both favorites and relative underdogs.

Emery has also overseen Spartak Moscow, Almeria, and Valencia.

Mikel Arteta and Thierry Henry were also rumored as potential Wenger successors.