Interestingly, over the last decade, the nature of football has changed. From a tactical standpoint, the next generation of managers have a modernised view on how the game should be played. For many, this has resulted in centre-forwards being asked to do more than only take up goalscoring positions around the penalty area.
While, of course, football can’t stand still and it must adapt to ever-changing methods both on and off the field, a handful of the globe’s best strikers now have more well-rounded styles than others from previous eras. So, with that in mind, let’s consider whether poachers are a thing of the past.
The Death of 4-4-2
When you think back to some of the attackers that have graced the field, including the likes of Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten, Pele, and many more, there can be no doubts that the sport of football has always produced world-class players. The end of this era, however, resulted in a change throughout the 1990s, with poachers becoming more prominent.
Since Alan Shearer, Gabriel Batistuta, Ronaldo, and others emerged onto the scene, the demands of managers have since altered. The decade’s focus on the goalscoring potentials of its centre-forwards was principally a by-product of the popularity of the 4-4-2 formation. Fundamentally, this two-up-top system enabled sides to focus their attacks down the flanks, thus allowing them to pick out numerous options in the box from wide spaces. Naturally, this system was integral to any successful team.
During the 1990s, this previously-favourable system yielded impressive on-field results. This is evident through partnerships such as Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley, who scored 55 goals combined, along with Chris Sutton and Shearer, and Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. It was under this tactical system that the former Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United striker, Shearer, scored most of his league goals, according to his profile at the official Premier League website.
It’s a common misconception that offensive partnerships have hindered sides in modern football through compromising on bodies in midfield. Although striking pairs aren’t generally used in a 4-4-2 system in the 21st century, managers don’t oppose their effectiveness in more narrow formations. Intriguingly, Brendan Rodgers used a diamond formation at Liverpool when he had both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. The pair’s prolific nature proved to be a historical anomaly in the Premier League, as their combined 52 goals weren’t enough to take the Reds to the league title.
Forward-Thinking Tactics Have Altered the Role of a Central Striker
Fundamentally, the appreciation of what partnerships gave football sides during the 90s will live long in the memory. However, as time went on, the 21st century brought about more diverse styles. Along with changing offensive phases of play, the contemporary approach to football has also seen a diminished role in blood and thunder leadership. In his day Duncan Ferguson epitomised old-school elements of the game, leading by an aggressive determination to score goals and win matches.
Ultimately, this was effective for numerous teams, including Juventus, who rose to the pinnacle of Serie A through Del Piero’s ruthlessness, the game has since changed dramatically. Upon his emergence, Jose Mourinho would often utilise a 4-2-3-1 shape, which, at Chelsea, saw Didier Drogba adopt a lone leading role.
Intriguingly, while he is known for his goalscoring prowess, the Portuguese manager’s preferred formation required the Ivorian to, first and foremost, link-up play and bring others into the game as the Blues transitioned from a defensive shape. Interestingly, this is something that Mourinho is now striving to implement at Tottenham Hotspur, who are 150/1 to finish in the top four with Betway come the end of the 2019-20 season, as of July 8th.
Aside from the former Porto manager, Jurgen Klopp has also been integral in modifying the perception of the role of a lone striker. Although Roberto Firmino may not score the same number of goals as those mentioned above, his selfless nature has proved pivotal to Liverpool’s recent trophy-winning success. In play, the Brazilian is encouraged to drift both out wide and into deeper areas to create space for his teammates.
There’s a Place for Them, But They Rely on a Particular System
Over the last few years, Mario Gomez has perhaps proved himself as being football’s most effective modern-day poacher. However, his effectiveness in and around the penalty area isn’t the only attribute that is sought after among contemporary managers. Sadly, for those who grew up with attacking partnerships, the unbalance that they provide in midfield has seemingly been the catalyst behind the growth of all-purpose, lone strikers.