IN his first 40 appearances for his country, Wayne Rooney, England’s all-time leading goalscorer, scored 14 goals. In the same number of matches, Harry Kane has notched up 25.

Saturday’s hat-trick, his second with the Three Lions on his shirt, took him past Stan Mortensen and Sir Geoff Hurst to 14th position on the all-time list. Bryan Robson, one ahead on 26, is next in his sights, but provided he remains relatively fortunate with injuries, it is surely only a matter of time before he rewrites the record books completely.

In the end, it took Rooney 107 matches to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton’s record and become the first England player to break the 50-goal barrier. If he maintains his current rate of success, Kane will require far fewer outings to follow in his footsteps.

“How far can I go? That’s a good question,” said Kane, after leaving the Wembley pitch with the match-ball tucked under his arm and the acclamation of a capacity crowd still ringing in his ears. “Hopefully, I can keep scoring goals for many years to come. Whenever I’ve got an England shirt on, it’s always about trying to score and help the team.

“Whenever stuff like that happens, it’s always a proud moment for me. It shows the hard work I’m putting in is paying off. It’s just a case of carrying on working hard and trying to score more goals. I want to score goals for England for many years to come. I know the boys will create chances, so I’ve got to be ready for them.”

For all his success with both club and country, Kane can be a hard centre-forward to weigh up. At his best, Rooney was a force of nature, bludgeoning opponents out of the way with his barrelling runs and tearing here, there and everywhere to wear down the opposition defence. Gary Lineker, who sits just behind Charlton on the all-time list, was the archetypal penalty-box predator, coming alive in the 18-yard box as the quality of his movement enabled him to ease himself ahead of his marker.

Kane does not really fit either mould. He is not especially strong, not particularly dominant in the air, yet opponents struggle to knock him out of his stride. He lacks the explosive pace of a Michael Owen or the instincts of a Lineker, yet he invariably tends to find himself in the right place at the right time as an opportunity drops in the box. He can score from distance, although you would not say it was his forte, and rarely displays the kind of selfishness that can sometimes be the chief characteristic of a centre-forward.

Yet, as his goals record proves, he is rightly acknowledged as one of the best goalscorers in the world, and perhaps in time will be recognised as the best this country has ever produced. Why is he so effective? It is a question opposition managers will be asking themselves every week, and according to Gareth Southgate, the answer lies in his approach to his profession.

Yes, he is blessed with an impeccable technique, as highlighted by his unerring accuracy from anywhere within the 18-yard box. But he only has that technique because he has worked at it assiduously. As evidenced by the four lower-league loan moves at the start of his career, brilliance has not come as easily to Kane as it did to some of the players who sit above him on England’s scoring charts. But he has done everything in his power to make the absolute most of his ability, a mindset that tends to trump the approach of those whose natural talent is not matched by a similar level of application.

“I can only talk glowingly about that mentality to want to be a top player,” said Southgate, after Saturday’s 4-0 victory took England back to the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group, ahead of Kosovo, who are the visitors to Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium tomorrow night. “Selfish isn’t the right word because he’s actually a very unselfish player - he works so hard for the team and he’s more than happy to drop into areas to leave space for others – but when he gets his moment, he just has an outstanding mindset and, technically, he’s a top, top finisher.

“But I go back to the fact that’s hours and hours of practice, and if you talk to some of the other forwards in the squad, they would talk to you about how big an impression that has had on them and the way they practice when they go back to their clubs. Sometimes, you can take part in finishing practices that can be a little bit half-hearted or not as focused as they might be, but he’s on it every single time.

“Take the penalties for example. We stood and watched him take penalties for about 20 minutes (on Friday). And when you watch the process that he goes through, he just gives himself every chance of succeeding by that deliberate practice. For a youngster to be able to watch what he does, being able to study him and see his professionalism and the way he works at his game, he’s an incredible example.”

He is also beginning to form part of a potent forward line that should form the core of England’s attacking threat at next summer’s European Championships. His partnership with Raheem Sterling, who set up Kane’s opening goal with a neat cut-back and scored himself in the second half when Kane repaid the favour with a square ball across the six-yard box, is developing apace. Throw in Marcus Rashford, or perhaps a developing Jadon Sancho, and you have a front three that stacks up positively against anything on the world stage.

There are still teething problems to address – for all their limitations, Bulgaria carved out a handful of decent chances and would have scored had Jordan Pickford not produced two smart second-half saves – but England will not be able to learn much from matches like the weekend’s.

The tougher tests lie in wait next summer, but having acquitted themselves reasonably well in the Nations League, Southgate feels his side are in a better position now than they were at a similar stage of the qualifying cycle ahead of the last World Cup.

“We’re competitive with probably eight teams,” said the England boss. “Portugal are European and Nations League champions, France are World champions. We would be ridiculous if we thought Spain and Italy, who are unbeaten in their groups, (would not be strong). Germany are always going to be a threat and Belgium have got to a World Cup semi-final. I think, on our day, we can beat those teams, but equally the Dutch showed they’re capable of beating us on their day. It’s a tight grouping of probably eight teams, and we’re part of that.”