Don’t judge a striker on goals alone

It’s oft stated that a striker ulterior job is to score goals. It was, but it no longer is.

Since the days of Duncan Ferguson, Clive Allen the place in a team of a true no. 9 has dwindled.  Even as recently as Mario Gomez, there is a prime example of the slow, pernicious death death of a true no. 9. I view it as the death nail of the man whose jobs it was to score goalsgoalsgoals and nothing more.

Its-a Mario. No not that one:

The death of the true no. 9 has two protagonists, both named Mario.

Mario Gomez signed for Bayern Munich for somewhere in between 30-35 million. After some teething problems in 09/10, he was amazing. He scored a combine 93  goals in two seasons. He was brilliant at finishing the chances that others made for him, one of the best in the business at it.

Gomez’s link-up play was truly, truly abysmal. In 10/11, Gomez averaged a horrendous 14.3 passes per match. That is indescribably poor link-up play.

In 11/12, he was slightly better and averaged 15.4 passes passes per game. But, still, that is truly abysmal.

He was still scoring goals. As I said, he scored 93 goals in these two seasons. He was almost undroppable. But all was not rosy beneath the surface. It took a big man in Jupp Heynckes to drop Gomez for Mario Mandzukic in his second season. With the aid of a few shrewd acquisitions in Dante and Javi Martinez, Bayern Munich went onto to complete the treble.

Mandzukic wasn’t exactly in prolific goal-scoring form. He scored only 18 goals in the whole season. That pales in comparison to what Gomez’s return of goals was but he was still the better player for the team. As an individual, he wasn’t near Gomez’s ability but he was better for the team. Mandzukic’s thankless work in running the channels, holding-up play, come short for a ball, occasionally going wide made the unit better as a whole. It allowed Franck Ribery to get to the stage where he surpasses Andres Iniesta and is nominated for the Ballon d’Or, it allowed Arjen Robben to go from a laughing stock after the Champion’s League final in 2012 to the best right winger in the world in one year. Mandzukic opened the game up because when Mario Gomez wasn’t scoring, Bayern were essentially playing with 10 men. I think that dovetails it nicely.

Mario Gomez is unlucky in that he’s the right player at the wrong time. If Gomez was born in the 1960’s and played his football in the 1980’s/1990’s, then I would be looking back at him now as the best true no.9 of that era. His unwillingness to adapt was ultimately his downfall.

There are three teams that play with striker that I’d describe as true no.9’s in the Premier League. Crystal Palace (but Tony Pulis doesn’t striker as the most up-to-date with modern tactics), Sunderland and Hull. In some cases even Hull don’t play with a true no. 9, Yannick Sagbo is quite prone to link-up play but when Danny Graham plays, they do.

Lastly, to put a finish to this particular blog, take a look at the players nominated for the FIFpro FIFA World XI

Name Current Club
Sergio Aguero Manchester City
Mario Balotelli AC Milan
Edinson Cavani Paris Saint-Germain
Diego Costa Atletico Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
Didier Drogba Galatasaray
Radamel Falcao Monaco
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Paris Saint-Germain
Robert Lewandowski Borussia Dortmund
Mario Mandzukic Bayern Munich
Lionel Messi Barcelona
Neymar Barcelona
Robin van Persie Manchester United
Wayne Rooney Manchester United
Luis Suarez Liverpool

LOL @ Balotelli and Drogba making the shortlist but how many of those players would you say don’t hold-up play, link-up play or get involved in chance creation?

In fact, I’d say that 7 out of those 15 nominations are the most creative player on their individual teams.

This is my obituary to true no.9’s

R.I.P true no.9’s


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Filed under Tactics, The modern game

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