There have been 156 goals so far in this World Cup but it’s the men who usually provide that have profited. We take a look at who has struggled and why this may be the case, with a little pointer from Thierry Henry.
It’s not been a great World Cup for the No. 9. The relief on Gonzalo Higuain’s face when he scored the goal to send Argentina through against Belgium, coupled with the dismay on the face of all of Brazil when they realised their faith was now in Fred’s hands (or feet) summed up the plight of the striker. They are no longer the stars of the show.
Colombia have taken the movement against strikers to another level. Jackson Martinez, who has 46 in 60 for Porto, couldn’t even get a look in as it was believed that he would stifle the brilliance of James Rodriquez. James (Hamez, unless you’re Glen Hoddle) has since gone on to more than double his international goal tally and is now widely tipped to be named the player of the tournament.
Even the strikers that started well have faded. Robin Van Persie has only scored once since his brace against Spain and the Manchester United striker’s efforts have been overshadowed by Arjen Robben. Miroslav Klose got his record equaling goal against Ghana but Germany have relied on Thomas Muller to score the goals to take them to the semi-final.
Perhaps the aforementioned Brazilian has been the biggest disappointment. Fred finished last year’s Confederations Cup as the top goalscorer and before the tournament he averaged more than a goal every two games for his country. Many expected Fred, alongside Neymar, to impress on the biggest stage and to take A Seleção to that seemingly inevitable sixth World Cup triumph.
This hasn’t been the case though, Fred has floundered in his home country and led some pundits to question if he’s even touched the ball. Manuel Neuer’s 21 touches against Algeria is 6 more than Fred’s average. He has been defended by some though, Thierry Henry claimed that Fred’s off the ball movement was key to Neymar’s missed chances during the 0-0 draw with Mexico. Despite the fact he seems to be in the minority, he may be on to something.
Strikers allowing space for the No. 10s seems to be the theme of the 2014 World Cup, despite Higuain’s relief no-one would argue that he’s had an awful summer as Messi’s goals have propelled Argentina to the semi-final and Teo Gutierrez isn’t going to vilified for only scoring once while his fellow countryman leads the race for the Golden Shoe.
Maybe this isn’t even a surprise? After all, more and more teams play with only one up front and expect the man in behind the striker to get alongside and even beyond the more conventional number nine. In the last eight years only two winners of the European Golden Boot have been traditional strikers, Diego Forlan in 2009 & Luca Toni in 2005, the other six winners have been more creative players: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo & Francesco Totti. It seems strikers aren’t getting worse, they’re just playing differently.
The World Cup has shown there are exceptions to this newly defined rule though: Karim Benzema’s goals for France lead them to being everyone’s new dark horse before they met a rather limp end against the Germans. Even Luis Suarez whose goals for Uruguay, and fantastic club season, have left the Liverpool man on the cusp of a move to Barcelona, despite his antics, isn’t a true No. 9. He much prefers to drop off of Edinson Cavani and find some space and cause confusion in the opposition’s ranks. The woes of the striker seems to be continuing.
During Saturday’s Quarter Final between Brazil & Colombia, as substitute Carlos Bacca screamed toward the referee after he was dumped to the turf, ITV’s Clive Tyldesley uttered these rather poignant words:
“The referee’s getting another earful from a striker with a hard luck story to tell.”
Clive’s words didn’t just sum up the Colombian’s night, it summed up the last decade of being striker. Being a striker is no longer the glamour role that players like Ronaldo made it, the next generation may well grow up wanting to be the No. 10 and not the No. 9.
Jack Cairns, Pundit Arena.