In the January transfer window Aston Villa had signed Emile Heskey from Wigan for £3.5m. This was a player who had scored 109 goals in 409 league appearances at a ratio of 0.27 goals a game and had been flogged by his previous teams for ultimately not scoring enough goals.
He had produced a promising partnership for both England and Liverpool with Micheal Owen but in the case his partnered didn’t score the pressure was on the bulky target man to deliver. A couple of mainly goal-shy seasons later and accusations of falling over more than scoring, he joined Birmingham.
However he didn’t do enough to dispel such an image and was later resigned by Steve Bruce, now at Wigan. Here the striker had reinvented himself as a team player; linking up play and making space for others with his strength. His unselfish performances leading the line under Fabio Capello’s ‘fluid’ England side finally brought appreciation at the age of 30.
Strikers have evolved and are now expected to do more; to use their intelligence to drop off into space and play in team mates while also being able to make runs to stretch opposition. An increased mobility and interchangeability in strikers has lessened the need for the traditional ‘goal-poachers ‘ while there is a greater expectation on midfielders to contribute goalscoring-wise.
The Premiership is still a curious anomaly. European clubs usually play with one central striker similar to someone like Torres (can run, link up, pace, movment) and a creative striker/playmaker behind. However in the Premier League, clubs still mainly play a traditional 4-4-2 but whereas before they wanted a little-and-large partnership the transfer window has seen the trend shift to two tall, highly mobile strikers. Wigan had signed Rodallega and Mido, Hull Manucho and even Middlesbrough you can argue with Marlon King.
Micheal Owen is one the only few old style goal poachers around but even he has had to evolve, playing as a link striker last season under Keegan. Tactically the game has changed with greater cautiousness especially of transitions in play.
Defensively, teams are stronger and the game could now be argued as one of many little battles where a goal poacher won’t have enough in his armoury to win and will require more work from team-mates.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy brings more than just goals with his hold up play while Inzaghi has great movement to go with his limited ability. “For me, a striker is not just a striker,” says Jose Mourinho. “He’s somebody who has to move, who has to cross, and who has to do this in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3 or in a 3-5-2.”
Of course the Premiership is a different league, less technical and more cautious but the evolution of strikers had been evident at the top clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United even before this window. Berbatov, Drogba and Adebayor offer more than a traditional target man or striker would have previously offered. Which makes it even more baffling the signings of Tottenham Hotspur who have now got three strikers in a more traditional ‘goal-poacher’ role (Bent, Defoe and Keane) and one all round player in Pavlyuchenko.