A striker’s worth is apparently obvious to all. Their currency is goals, and unfortunately/fortunately for him or her, this is almost without rebuttal.
Consider Mesut Ozil. His season has by anyone’s measure been a success, in large part due to our penchant for consulting the hard numbers. Mesut has clocked up 10 assists – as well as a goal, the striker’s meat and drink – and as such has earned the country’s blessing as a top midfielder. However, somewhat more transiently he also boasts a phenomenal stat: Squawka say Ozil has created 54 chances for teammates, a stunning average of just under 5 chances a game.
Further to this, when Ozil isn’t creating hard data he is recognised as the oil of Arsenal’s machine, and in the opinion of his fans he has transcended the rudimentary nature of numbers. His is almost becoming a philosophical position. ‘If you love football, you love Ozil’ said Wenger. You are dared to judge Ozil by mortal reasoning.
No such luck for the striker.
Their fortunes are judged only in the cruel light of day, with both fine goal and cruel miss experienced just yards from the reaction of the fan. Isn’t that unfair, that a midfielder can hide between the lines, where the striker’s business is concluded in front of thousands of people every time? That’s the price of glory, a binary position, their experience on the pitch one of huge extremes; 89 minutes of chance after chance are irrelevant if you eventually persuade the ball over the line.
So let’s consider the finest of the 'modern' era.
Thierry Henry supplied them. His league career at Arsenal yielded well above the accepted average of one in two, scoring 174 goals in 254 games and although he was celebrated for the style of his goals, beauty had no influence on value. Ruud van Nistelrooy – Thierry’s Dutch contemporary - equally hit his targets, with 95 league goals in 150 games, and startlingly, 38 European goals in 47 games.
In modern times, Sergio Aguero is the most consistently excellent at providing goals, gols or GOLASSOs, with 84 in 128 league games. But there is a sub-group.
In MATCH ‘s 2005 annual, there is a feature on Luis Figo. In it, Real Madrid’s sporting director of the time Jorge Valdano, said ‘We are so used to Figo playing brilliantly that we think he is playing badly when he is just playing normally’.
It’s an important quote to consider when you look at what you might refer to as the ‘second tier’ of strikers. Not being Sergio Aguero cannot mean you are a bad striker, and there is a growing group of ‘good’ strikers in the current Premier League who basically are doing what they are being paid for.
A study of this sub-group reveals remarkable results. Olivier Giroud and Romelu Lukaku (considering only his time at West Brom and Everton) both have a goals-per-game record of 0.43 in the Premier League, while Graziano Pelle comes in only slightly lower at 0.36. Michael Owen scored at 0.46, Wayne Rooney 0.45, Ronaldo at 0.43 and Robbie Fowler at 0.43 also. Giroud and Pelle have six league goals this season, while Lukaku has seven.
Additionally, Giroud and Pelle both stand at 6 foot 4 inches, while Lukaku is 6 ft 3. They are all strong in the air, but eternally cursed also with phrases such as ‘not a bad touch for a big man!’ They boast power, and have all demonstrated skill, from aerial acrobatics to groundwork.
Their international records make for interesting reading also. Giroud has 40 apps and 12 goals, Lukaku 40 apps to 11 goals, and Pelle eight apps to four goals (a decent if slightly unproven record which sort of makes up for his slightly lower PL goals per game average). None have scored heavily. Respectable, but consider Neymar’s Brazil scrapbook: 67 apps, 46 goals. He is 23.
Their circumstances, and expectations, are somewhat different. Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud has long plied his trade in the shadow of Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie, three of the greatest strikers the league has seen. Pelle at Southampton is in a somewhat comfier position, challenging for European football, but under no great pressure otherwise. Lukaku’s hefty price tag and youth mean he is in the greatest position of the three to break into the top tier of goalscorer, but at Everton he is under no pressure to win the league.
Ambitions may change around them, and when those questions are asked they will have to consider their positions, but in their glorious trade of supply and demand they are rarely out of stock. In a soap-opera league these men do their jobs and do them well, and that's why the 'good' striker is OK by me.