This recent post by Bobby concerning the dearth of top class English strikers in the Premier League sparked a series of opinions in the comment section that ranged from blaming the import of foreign players to the more optimistic line (if you are English) that it is only a matter of time before another player capable of regularly scoring goals at the very top-level arrives on the scene.
Coincidentally the next day there was a similar post here bemoaning the dearth of Polish strikers in their domestic league. The main conclusions? Too many imports with the more optimistic line (if you are Polish) that some young players are definitely coming through.
It could just be that England and Poland are the only two countries affected by this drought of course, but that hardly seems likely.
So perhaps it’s instructive to look at the list in that post of the current leading scorers in the EPL; aside from the fact that so few of them are English, the other striking fact (if you will pardon the pun) is that not too many of them are actually strikers. At least not in the conventional meaning of the term.
You would struggle to convince me that even half of them play as a traditional forward, and of the representatives of the top six teams only Berbatov/Hernandez of Manchester United really fit that role (and I’m open to debate over Berbatov).
Maybe then the question shouldn’t be “Where are the English strikers?” Maybe the question should be “Where are any of the strikers?”.
A search for lists of the world’s current top forwards brings forth six names on a regular basis; Drogba, Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, Villa, Tevez and Rooney, and of those six players the latter three don’t play as conventional strikers (certainly not as their best position) and the former are moving away from, rather than towards, their prime.
Further evidence for the demise of the position comes from the fact that the two top goal scoring phenomena of this era (Messi and Ronaldo) play in either withdrawn or wide roles that use the forward players as adjuncts or diversions that open up the space that then allows them to inflict their damage, and as far back as 2003 the former Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira predicted that the formation of the future would be a 4-6-0.
Parreira may have been being deliberately provocative there, but in an era where fitness levels are at an all time high many managers must wonder whether they can afford the luxury of player whose sole contribution to the team is to simply score goals when every other position on the field is required to provide so much more than a one-dimensional role.
No doubt some will point to the arrival of the aforementioned Javier Hernandez at Old Trafford as a counter argument to this theory, but even in Hernandez’s astonishingly successful goal scoring season the most valuable contribution he has made to the team is that he has granted Wayne Rooney the freedom to return to his best form (and does anybody doubt that his work rate isn’t as big a factor as his goals in earning his selection ahead of an equally prolific Berbatov?).
In short, the striker may not yet have disappeared from the footballing arena, but his role is no longer akin to that of the matador that claims the glory of the kill, but rather that of the picador that weakens the opposition so that others can claim that glory for themselves.
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