Our writers stretch far and wide and support clubs all the way up and all the way down the football pyramid. This week, we asked our team to come up with their own personal greatest striker of all time. So, sit back, relax and enjoy recounting the careers of these incredible footballers.
Pete Spencer – Jimmy Greaves
For some, Greavsie is the greatest goalscorer English football has ever seen. A remarkable record of scoring on his debut for every club he played for, his stats are stunning. 357 English top-flight goals is still a record. Six hat-tricks in an England shirt is also a record. 44 international goals in just 57 appearances is an incredible ratio.
His career began at Chelsea where he scored 124 goals in four seasons, including 13 hat-tricks. He scored five goals in a match twice and became the youngest player to reach 100 goals. He then spent a disappointing eight months at Milan, where he never settled.
His return to London saw him choose Spurs as his home where he soon re-established himself as a prolific goalscorer. In eight seasons at Tottenham he became their record goalscorer, 266, including 15 hat-tricks. He won the FA Cup twice and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup as Spurs became the first British club to win a European trophy.
In March 1970 he joined West Ham as Martin Peters moved the other way. Not quite the same player he had been, he still finished his career with 366 goals across Europe which remained a record until Cristiano Ronaldo beat it in 2017.
He played in two World Cups but an injury in the group stages in 1966 saw him miss out on a place in the Final. He never received his winners’ medal until 2009.
He had terrific acceleration and great dribbling skills. His trademark was simply to pass the ball into the net. He never saw the point of blasting it.
His career ended in non-league with appearances for Chelmsford and Barnet
David Nesbit – Bob Latchford
In some ways, Bob Latchford was the archetypal 1970s centre-forward in that he was no-nonsense, powerful, strong in the air and had a kick like a mule. Yet, despite having a cruiserweight boxer’s physique, Latchford was far from being purely a battering-ram type of forward, possessing a delightful touch and the ability to bring others into the game.
Long before Howard Kendall and his side of the mid-1980s wrote their way into Goodison folklore, Latchford was established as a true Goodison legend. Joining Everton from home-city side Birmingham City in 1974 in a record transfer deal worth £350,000 that saw Howard Kendall and Archie Styles move in the opposite direction, Latchford stayed seven years at Goodison.
He was top scorer each season with a final total of 138 in 268 appearances to make him, at the time, Everton’s greatest post-war goalscorer. Although failing to win any major honours with Everton, Latchford’s greatest season was the 1977-78 campaign in which he managed to score 30 league goals. In doing so he won a prize of £10,000 offered by a national newspaper for the first player to achieve the feat.
Hero-worshipped at Goodison, Latchford was allowed to leave in the summer of 1981. Joining Swansea City, newly promoted to the top flight, Latchford was an instant success, and after scoring a hat-trick on his debut, would continue to net at a rate of one every two games over the next three years. Winning twelve England caps, Latchford managed 5 goals.
Chris Darwen – Brian Stein
Growing up, and still to this day, there is an image burned in my mind. Tony Adams is standing there, hand on hips. Nigel Winterburn is on his backside. John Lukic is sprawled, having failed at his job. In the distance, it looks like Martin Hayes wondering what on Earth has just happened.
“Yes! In the last minute” was the cry from Brian Moore. Brian Stein, wheeling away, has planted the beautiful Mitre Delta match ball in the back of the Arsenal net and Luton Town are about to lift the 1988 Littlewoods Cup having beaten the Gunners 3-2. It was Stein’s second of the game, cementing his name in the Hatters’ folklore forevermore.
This goal meant everything to me as a kid, even more than Andy Dibble saving Winterburn’s penalty (and I was a goalie!). This goal meant that all the Mickey-taking I had endured for “supporting Luton, who are they?” from kids at school and family members was worth it – Luton were as big as anyone on that day.
Stein’s story was classic David Pleat – moving to England as a young boy from Cape Town, South Africa he was scouted by Pleat playing for Edgware Town before signing for Luton. Considered a skilful striker in the opposite mould to the traditional target man, Stein forged several relationships with the likes of Paul Walsh and Mick Harford in his time at Kenilworth Road – scoring 127 times in 388 games for the club in his first spell, a further three goals coming having returned from France.
Stein managed to get a single England cap against France in 1984, partnering Walsh – he was the first African-born black player to win a senior cap for England and that same summer helped England win the 1984 European Under-21 tournament.Was Stein the greatest striker ever to play the beautiful game?Looking back now, no – of course not. But tell that to me in the summer of 1988.
Dave Proudlove – Gianluca Vialli
Being a Stoke City supporter, I never really paid too much attention to the early Premier League years beyond watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night. But as clubs’ coffers were filled with Sky TV money, big-name foreign players began to be attracted to our shores in the same way they went to Serie A in the late 80s, and it was impossible to ignore, and the one transfer that really took my eye was Chelsea’s signing of Gianluca Vialli.
Vialli began his career with his local club Cremonese who he helped to Serie B before moving on to Sampdoria in 1984. It was with Il Doria that he made his name, forming a prolific strike partnership with childhood friend Roberto Mancini, the pair earning the nickname I Gemelli del Gol (the Goal Twins).
The signing of Vialli coincided with Sampdoria’s golden era. Between 1985 and 1992, the club won the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia three times, Supercoppa Italiana, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. They also reached the European Cup final in 1992. Immediately following that European Cup final, Vialli left Sampdoria for Juventus for a then world record transfer fee of £12.5million having scored 141 goals in 328 appearances.
His time in Turin was a great success, and Vialli fully justified the record-breaking transfer fee, netting 53 times in 145 appearances, while lifting his second Scudetto, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa Italiana, the Champions League, and the UEFA Cup.
Vialli left Juventus on a free transfer in 1996 to join the Stamford Bridge revolution, spending four years in west London as a player, then latterly as manager. A row with Ruud Gullit limited Vialli’s appearances for Chelsea, but he still managed 38 goals in 80 games, and lifted the FA Cup.Gullit was sacked by Chelsea early in 1998, and Vialli replaced him. In a little over two-and-a-half years in charge, Vialli led the club to five trophies.
Gianluca Vialli was one of Europe’s most prolific and successful strikers, scoring 257 goals in 666 career appearances, winning numerous honours along the way. Although he did well in England, his biggest achievements were in his home country, and were particularly impressive given Serie A’s reputation for cynical, defensive football at the time.
Chris Darwen – Romario
One of my big childhood moments was when I finally convinced my Dad that the old Betamax video recorder sitting in the garage was much better used in my bedroom than sitting there doing nothing as he and my Mother enjoyed the luxury of a new VHS. Naturally, all I wanted the video recorder for was to record all the late-night football highlights that would be on TV way after my bedtime.
It was following this deal being struck with the old man that I first clapped eyes on Romário de Souza Faria. Remember, this is the kid who thought Brian Stein was the finest goalscorer in world football and was possibly growing used to the idea that Gary Lineker really was quite good – but watching Romario score a hat trick for PSV on a grainy, black-and-white (yes, I might have had a Betamax but not in colour) recording from a European Cup match in the late 80s changed my view.
Romario was everything a Brazilian striker should have been – crazily skilful, impossible to mark (just ask the Manchester United defence who played on that fateful night at the Camp Nou) and with a trademark finish – the toe-poke.
He moved from PSV to Barcelona where on one hand he was a genius and on the other a little flawed – not that any flaws stopped the great Johan Cruyff calling the Brazilian the best player he ever coached with the following quote;“It has to be Romário. You never knew what to expect with him. His technique was outstanding, and he scored goals from every possible position, most of them with his toe, funnily enough.”
USA 94 was where I have my fondest memories of Romario – alongside Bebeto, he sprinkled the few bits of samba magic going as Brazil won the World Cup in the most European of styles. Let’s ignore the fact he only really scored 929 “proper” goals – after all, nobody is officially allowed to take that title from Pele, are they?
Pete Spencer – Robbie Fowler
Though there have been many world-class strikers at Liverpool, none ever achieved the cult status Robbie Fowler did. Known to fans simply as ‘God’, Fowler burst onto the scene in 1993 when he scored on his first start in the League Cup against Fulham. But it was the second leg when people took notice. Liverpool won 5-0, he scored all five!
He scored his first hat-trick in just his fifth match and hit 13 goals in his first 15 games for the club, and everyone was talking about the new goalscoring sensation.
Those who played alongside him or coached when he was playing all point to him being one of the best finishers they’d ever seen. He scored goals from anywhere, mainly with his left foot. He scored a hat-trick against Arsenal in 1994 in only four minutes 33 seconds. He scored twice in the opening eight minutes of the FA Cup Semi-Final against Villa in 1996.
Between 1994-1997 he scored over 30 goals in successive seasons as he blossomed under Roy Evans. But when Gerard Houllier took over, Fowler was gradually eased out, despite scoring many important goals when his club needed him. He played an integral part during the 2001 treble season, scoring in the Worthington Cup Final, the UEFA Cup Final and the goal which confirmed a Champions League place for the following season.
Reluctantly, he moved to Leeds in 2002 then onto Man City. When Rafa Benitez asked him if he wanted to return in 2005 it was ‘the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make’. He even scored on his first game back, only to see it disallowed.
Being a local lad helped him become a firm favourite with the crowd, more than many other player.
His career record at Anfield shows 183 goals in 369 appearances.
Rodney McCain – Ruud van Nistelrooy
You need to be a pretty special talent to have one of the world’s biggest clubs ‘wait’ for you to recover from very serious injury before going ahead with a deal to bring you into their squad. Dutch hitman Ruud van Nistelrooy was special.
Having begun his career with Den Bosch and Heerenveen, van Nistelrooy set the record for a transfer fee between two Dutch clubs when he joined PSV Eindhoven in 1998 for around £4.25 million. The step up in level made no difference to the end product: GOALS! Quite simply, van Nistelrooy was a ‘goal machine’. At Eindhoven he managed 31 goals in just 34 games in his debut season of 1998-99 to become Dutch “Player of the Year”; a year later it was 29 goals in only 23 appearances as PSV took a second Eredivisie title in a row.
This phenomenal strike rate brought many big clubs’ scouts to Eindhoven; amongst them were Manchester United representatives. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had first been alerted to van Nistelrooy by his own son, Darren. United wasted no time, agreeing a deal for Ruud with PSV the very next day. Then tragedy struck. In a training session before the deal was ‘rubber-stamped’, van Nistelrooy fell awkwardly on his knee, rupturing anterior cruciate ligaments. He would be out for a year.
Many clubs might have cancelled the transfer; United didn’t. Instead, impressed by the Dutchman’s determination to recover from injury and resurrect his career, Sir Alex sanctioned the £19 million deal a year later. It was ‘a match made in heaven’. What followed was a veritable avalanche of goals; van Nistelrooy couldn’t stop scoring! He played a total of 219 times for United over five seasons, scoring 150 goals and winning a Premier League title (2003), an FA Cup winners’ medal (2004) and a League Cup winners’ medal (2006). Those medals were actually scant reward for the superb performances Ruud produced on a consistent basis; he deserved a lot more.
Having fallen out with the prodigious Cristiano Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy left United for Real Madrid in 2006, where he continued to score goals (64 in 96 appearances) before finishing his career with spells at SV Hamburg and Malaga. He is, without doubt, the deadliest penalty-box striker I have ever witnessed in a live setting and would find a place in my all-time great Manchester United XI. Sir Alex proved with van Nistelrooy that sometimes “good things do come to those who wait”!
Jack Wills – Ronaldo
You don’t get the nickname ‘The Phenomenon’ for nothing.
What can be said about Ronaldo that hasn’t been said already. The man was a freak, and I use that in the most complimentary sense. The emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the muscle man who has smashed nearly every record in European football, has left R9 as a bit of a punchline to younger fans of football. When Ronaldo is mentioned, people of a certain age question “Cristiano, or fat Ronaldo?” To those who witnessed ‘O Fenômeno’ in his pomp, all you can do is laugh.
His breakthrough in Europe came with PSV, his stardom developed at Barcelona and his climb to the very top echelon came in the blue and black of Internazionale. It wasn’t just the number of goals he scored, but the nature of them. His halfway line mazy run in the cup for Barca was flabbergasting. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on a video game.
At Inter, he matured as a player. He went to Serie A in the 90s, arguably the strongest league in the world ever during the period, with a reputation for fearsome defenders. He made Maldini, Nesta, Baresi et al look like your typical Sunday-league hammer thrower.
On the international scene, he was Herculean. We all know ‘the incident’ that occurred in 1998, but this overshadows how good he was in the lead up to the final. In 2002 he took a giant leap forward, conquering all in his path and in 2006, despite being past his best, he still went on to ensure he grabbed hold of the then-world record of 15 World Cup goals.
He was a stunning player who had a career derailed by gruesome knee injuries time and time again. He was knocked back so many times yet kept on fighting back. He is arguable the best striker the world has ever seen; just imagine what could have happened if only his knees did not betray him. He is Ronaldo; he is The Phenomenon.
Eliott Brennan – Thierry Henry
As strikers go, Thierry Henry was the final evolution of a multi-dimensional, complete forward. His speed, tenacity and ruthlessness brought fear to any defender that had the unpleasant job to somehow stop the Frenchman. On the vast majority of occasions, they failed.
Henry first arrived on the scene as a forward for Monaco who could exploit Ligue 1 defences due to his pace. His first of many awards came in 1996, two years after his professional debut as a 17-year-old, when he won French Young Player of the Year. The following year, Henry scored nine goals in 36 matches to help Monaco win the league.
In stylistic fashion, Henry was one of the dominant forces in France’s class of ’98, scoring three goals in six games to clinch the World Cup on home soil.
Soon, European giants began to listen to the noise the 21-year-old was making. Juventus picked up the striker for close to £10.7m on a four-and-a-half-year deal. Henry’s stay in Italy lasted only for the next few months.
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger watched with prying eyes as he watched his fellow native become unsettled in Italy. An £11m bid persuaded Juventus to part with their recent signing. From then on, Wenger would utilise Henry’s gifts to transform him into debatably the greatest striker to play in the Premier League and the world.
His Arsenal record finished with 175 goals in 258 appearances (a ratio of 0.68) and 74 assists in the league; two Premier League titles; one invincibles season; two FA Cups; record goalscorer (228 goals); and a Premier League Hall of Fame inductee.
Even though he couldn’t win the illusive Champions League with Arsenal, he would go on to do so with Pep Guardiola’s revolutionised Barcelona. In his twilight, he projected New York Red Bulls onto the global map and had a unique loan at the Emirates.
In all, it is impossible to spell out Henry’s career in such few words. Player of the Year’s has been missed. His great performances have been missed. The type of goals he scored he missed. His leadership and influence have been missed. But what we can never miss is his legacy.