One thing I like about football is how there are variations on a theme.
The overriding theme i all of football is how to win games. Winning games is basically about controlling two outcomes, the first being the scoring of goals, the second being the protection from conceding goals.
When I was introduced to football in the mid 1980’s I was referred to two masters of the art of goalscoring – Gary Lineker and Ian Rush. When we played football at school there were these types of players known as goal-hangers. They literally spent most of the time in and around the opposition penalty area waiting for the ball to get to them so they could knock it in. Others did the hard work, but they were just there for the glory.
As I discovered the goal hanger in the professional game was worth his weight in gold as long as he did the business. I heard and read about England’s arch exponent of that art – Jimmy Greaves. That man’s record spoke for itself in terms of goals scored in the games played. We might have berated the goal hanger at school, but the job of being in and around the place to be making the difference where it mattered.
It’s a precious art these days. It’s one thing to score goals regularly. It’s another thing to be a specialist in scoring goals. As Rush proved, the poacher wasn’t necessarily a lazy player, but he knew when to burst into life. There’s not a bad lineage of that type in English football over the years, although the last really good one was Michael Owen and his peak was too brief at the highest level.
The Target Man
This kind of striker always made me chuckle. They were in a place on the pitch where it was reasonable to expect them to score goals, but the nature of the system told them to ‘hold the ball up’ whilst others bombed on ahead of them and do what they should have been doing.
This type of player was epitomised by the likes of John Toshack in the 1970’s. People today think Peter Crouch is a target man because of his height, but actually he’s not that good a target man at all being a lot better on the ground. The much maligned Emile Heskey was the last good target man in this country. The unfortunate thing about the target man is the association to a style of football that was more concerned with getting the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible, not necessarily as skilful or considered.
The Lone Striker
The flavour of the day today is to have one man up front. Whereas back in the day it was about partnerships, however they complimented each other, that has changed today. Chelsea popularised this approach with a 4-3-3 system in attack and a 4-5-1 system in defence that meant the onus was on the front man to not just be the link up to play, but go the business required at the end too
Unsurprisingly the likes of two of the current Chelsea strikers are the best exponents of the style. Drogba in particular is a real master of the art. In his prime he was unplayable in the position and the team played to his strengths and benefited greatly from it. Costa at the moment looks the real deal in epitomising the style of play needed to get goals scored and cause the defence trouble to assist their attacking colleagues.
There have been different type of players up front, but these three go to a good degree of showing how the game has changed even over the last 25 years. The variety of styles in getting the ball in the back of the net will never settle with one style.
C. L. J. Dryden