Euro 2012: Manchester United target Robert Lewandowski & The Return Of The Classic no.9
Playmakers and trequartistas. Inverted wingers and “false nines”. These are the most celebrated and venerated positions in world football today. There no longer seems to be an audience for the tireless box-to-box midfielder or the efficient winger. And, until Euro 2012, even the classic number 9, the goal-scoring hero, has been discarded.
It has often seemed that in today’s football world that the goal scoring number 9 is no longer an in-demand performer. Like a veteran magician whose show no longer continues to induce gasps and awe, the admiration and adulation of the classic striker has dried up. Before Euro 2012 started this summer we saw the two greatest finishers of the 2000's effectively call time on their illustrious careers. Ruud van Nistelrooy retired while Raùl has moved to Al-Sadd in the UAE, preparing for a life of retirement in the sun. Van Nistelrooy may have often worn the number 10, while Raùl wore 7, yet neither could hide the fact that both were simply great goal-scorers and not much else. Both players had belonged to a golden generation of great strikers in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Alongside Raùl and Ruud football fans had a host of great-goalscorers to enjoy throughout Europe. Shearer, Cole, Yorke, Ferdinand, Wright and Fowler were a number of names gracing the Premiership. Fans of Serie A feasted over the never-ending goals from Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi, Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta. In La Liga there was Patrick Kluivert, Davor Suker and, of course, el fenomeno himself; Ronaldo. Forget your “false” nines, these were the real deal.
In the wake of these lethal penalty box predators, we have seen the rise of attackers whose positions are far more ambiguous and difficult to define. Attackers are now expected to play on the wing and in the "hole", not just in the penalty box. The ability of these players to score goals is not always diminished; as is emphatically displayed by the “other Ronaldo” and Lionel Messi in La Liga. Yet for most teams, the main attacker is now required to do so much more than just score goals. At Manchester United Wayne Rooney must initiate most of their attacks from a central midfield position, at Real Ronaldo is still deployed primarily as a winger, at Barca Messi is a “false nine” (i.e collecting the ball from deep rather than receiving the ball in advanced positions.) A great goalscorer of our generation, Samuel Eto’o, was forced onto the wing during his last season with Inter. As teams further tinker with their formations, the goal-scorer is increasingly deemed surplus to requirements.
Against Holland, Mario Gomez touched the ball for only a combined 22 seconds throughout the match, yet scored two match-winning goals with lovely finishes
It is not just the imaginations of managers that the classic number 9 has fallen out of love with. It seems that fans and writers have followed suit, seemingly now more enamoured with the perhaps more subtle stylings of players such as David Silva, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozïl and Andrea Pirlo than any 20 goal a season man. For example, website The Score compiled a top 100 players in the world by asking a host of the most notable football writers around the world. Not one of the top 5 could be convincingly described as a classic goal-scorer. Similarly, in advance of Euro 2012, it was playmakers such as Alan Dzagoev, Mesut Ozïl, Christian Eriksen, Andres Iniesta and Antonio Cassano who were commonly predicted to light up the tournament. The question of who would actually score the goals was deemed irrelevant.
It has therefore been a welcome sight to see Euro 2012 be dominated thus far by the classic number 9. Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gomez, Nicklas Bendtner, Helder Postiga, Antonio Di Natale, Andriy Shevchenko, Nikica Jelavic, Andy Caroll and of course Fernando Torres, el niño himself, have all dusted down their shooting boots and scored decisive goals for their sides so far. No player represents this position better than Fernando Torres. A source of much derision in the Premiership, his inclusion in a Spain team that had previously been striker-less on Thursday night, was a joy to watch. Torres bagged two goals with clinical finishes that suggested he had never really lost it after all. Against Italy, Spain had once again dominated possession yet had struggled to fashion chances without a clear advanced forward on the pitch. When Torres came on, chances doubled. There is still no beast as effective in the final third than a lethal finisher with an eye for goal. Against Holland, Mario Gomez touched the ball for only a combined 22 seconds throughout the match, yet scored two match-winning goals with lovely finishes. Clinical efficiency in front of goal can therefore still be the difference between victory and defeat. It can also still be the source of thrills and beauty, the presence of a top finisher on the pitch is enough reason (among many) to tune in to Euro 2012.
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