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Where Have All The Strikers Gone

Thursday Mar 14, 2019

 Changing trends at the top level!

 A few years ago, Spain coach Vincente del Bosque made headlines when he pioneered a controversial formation during Euro 2012. Specifically, he took to the field with a team that contained no strikers. It was a move seen as laughable by some football pundits at the time, but del Bosque and the Spanish had the last laugh when they won the tournament.

 It felt like a pivotal moment in the history of football tactics, and one that had been coming for a while. The Barcelona team of the era scored more goals from midfield than they did from up front, and the two best players in the world were then - as they arguably are now - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The two have completely rewritten the football history books when it comes to goals scored, but neither one of them is an orthodox striker. 


 It may now be the case that the two greatest players of their era have a lot to answer for. Young children, growing up watching football, want to emulate their heroes. Aspiring coaches look at what's been successful on big stages and try to emulate the tactics they've seen. Once upon a time, every child grew up wanting to be a star striker, and every coach built their teams around those star strikers. Now, nobody wants to be a striker, and teams don’t know how to accommodate them properly. 

 The Death of the Striker:

 We at Tamworth may not be a standard study case when it comes to the way we lay out our team. We use strikers, and we rely on them to score our goals. Despite that, our team resembles a lot of others in the way that goals are distributed around the squad. If you look back at the 1990s, the key to success was finding that elusive ‘20 goal a season striker’ - someone who could put the ball in the back of the net reliably. The job of the rest of the team was to get that player the ball. 

 Looking at our season to date - which admittedly hasn't been the best - Chris Lait has had the bulk of responsibility on his shoulders in terms of scoring goals. Lait plays as a forward, but wouldn't usually be classed as an orthodox striker. Tyrell Waite is more of a traditional striker but is behind Lait in second place. That would have been unthinkable twenty years ago when midfield players getting into double figures for the season was a rare occurrence.

 Further up the football leagues, one only has to look at the criticism Romelu Lukaku has endured at Manchester United to see how strikers have been devalued by current footballing philosophy. Lukaku, at the time of writing, has scored 13 goals in 36 appearances, many of which have come as a substitute. He'll likely reach 20 before the season is out.


 Historically that would have been seen as a good return, but Lukaku is talked about as slow, clumsy and inefficient. Much of the negativity comes from the fact that he isn’t a ‘link up’ player; he isn’t likely to track back to midfield, and he likes to stay inside the penalty box of the opposition. Once, he would have been congratulated on knowing his role and sticking to it, but that’s no longer the case. One can’t help but wonder what modern pundits would have to say about Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker. 

 The Striker Shortage:

 Staying with top clubs, we're now beginning to see the effects of this striker shortage on big name clubs. Real Madrid has disastrously collapsed out of the Champions League with a whimper, and languish behind Barcelona in their domestic league. They've failed to replace the goals of Ronaldo after he departed for Juventus, and found that the ‘midfield-first' system doesn't work as well when you don't have one of the world's greatest players to prop that system up.

 At Chelsea, who are also enduring a season of struggle, they’ve also been bereft of ideas up front. Their solution has been to bring in Higuain; a striker who was once one of Europe’s most feared in his prime, but at 31 looks like his best years are behind him. All across the top teams in Europe, there doesn’t appear to be one stand-out striking option who’d be a natural pick to lead the line for a major club. Harry Kane at Spurs may be the one exception - the last of a dying breed. 


 Pumping Money into Mediocrity:

 As clubs begin to realize that they need strikers after all - a fact that will surely occur to Barcelona once Messi decides to hang up the boots and call it a day - they'll be left trying to pick up prospects from a system that hasn't nurtured striking prospects properly for over a decade. The failure of Morata at Chelsea - Higuain's predecessor - is a testament to how average modern big-money strikers are when they're exposed at the highest level. Similarly, Manchester United broke their wage budget for Alexis Sanchez only to be disappointed with the result. Where is the next Shearer, or Romario, or van Basten? Where are the players who can lead the line from the front?

 Because goalscorers come at a premium, clubs looking to recruit them pay big money to bring them in, but there’s a strong case to say they’re no longer getting the same quality of product for the price they used to pay. Instead of buying strikers, they’re participating in games of ‘Striker Gone Wild’ at Amigo Slots, taking gambles on strikers when they're uncertain of the outcome and hoping the fates move in their favor. In the case of the odds for football clubs, though, they're less favorable than they are in the slot game. Pump £50m into an online slot and you'd expect it to pay out in a big way for you eventually. Pay £50m for a striker in the current market, and you could have a big-money flop on your hands just as easily as a surefire hit.

 It’s time for football as a whole to re-evaluate its relationship with strikers. Most importantly of all, it’s time for youth-level coaches to start fostering them again properly, instead of trying to convert them into attacking midfielders.

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