Why Strikers Tug At Our Heartstrings...

Why do footballers, journalists and fans love strikers more than goalkeepers or defenders? Daniel Storey says they give us a chance to dream of success...

Last Updated: 14/05/13 at 14:00 Post Comment

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There is no doubt that strikers are valued as football's most precious assets. Of the top 20 transfers of all time, 18 are attacking players, with only Gianluigi Buffon and Thiago Silva offering any case for the defence. Since 1995, the British transfer record has been broken by Andy Cole, Dennis Bergkamp, Stan Collymore, Alan Shearer and Nicolas Anelka, amongst others, with Rio Ferdinand's signing by Manchester United the only deal to break a monopoly of expensive attacking talent.

This is not a new development - scoring goals has always been regarded higher than saving them. England's first £1,000 (1905), £10,000 (1928), £100,000 (1962) and £1million (1979) players were all strikers, and with targets such as Edinson Cavani, Falcao and Luis Suarez promising to be this summer's transfer sagas, it doesn't look like much is set to change.

Such a status quo is regularly questioned. Goalkeepers make match-winning saves, defenders make match-winning tackles and strikers score match-winning goals - so why is there such a vast difference in their value?

Part of this concerns the iconic place that forwards hold in our football psyche. As children, it is very rare that we dream of making the save that wins the World Cup, and having the ambition to make a last-gasp tackle to ensure victory is almost unheard of in the school playground. Instead, we dream of being the goalscorer, the celebrity that takes all the plaudits. The striker is our pin-up boy and our icon, and typically attracts the highest shirt sales and sponsorship deals. Pele in the Sixties, George Best in the Seventies, Maradona in the Eighties and Ronaldo in the Nineties; our poster boys and heroes are all players of an attacking nature.

This view is shared by almost every demographic within the game. John Terry is the only defender to have been named the PFA Player of the Year since Paul McGrath in 1993, and no goalkeeper has won the award since Peter Shilton in 1978. Journalists tend to agree with the players' opinions and, of every recipient of the Football Writers' Player of the Year award since the beginning of the Premier League era, only two (Scott Parker and Roy Keane) were defensive players.

Whilst it is clear that they are favoured highly, are strikers more important than their teammates, or is it simply that they establish themselves more prominently in our consciousness thanks to their ability to generate headlines through their achievements?

Perhaps the answer lies in David Moyes' Everton reign. Now the presumingly gleeful recipient of the Manchester United job, Moyes received significant (and deserved) praise for his management of a squad which consistently suffered from underinvestment. The Toffees cracked the top four in 2005, the top six on four other occasions, and finished as FA Cup runners-up in 2009.

With such financial constraints, Moyes was aware that he could not afford a top striker, and instead chose to invest in midfielders and his defence to great effect. After spending £6million on James Beattie, the Scot presumably concluded that such figures were better spent elsewhere on the pitch. Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, Leighton Baines, Joleon Lescott, Tim Howard, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Neville, Steven Pienaar and more, were all signings that helped Everton achieve regular top-six finishes.

However, in his time at Goodison, Moyes' Everton continuously cried out for a goalscorer. Only once during the manager's 11-season reign did an Everton player score 15 league goals (Yakubu, who cost £11.25million, in 2004/5), and in only two campaigns did the top scorer score more than 11 goals in the league. The last Everton player to average better than a goal every two games over a whole season was Gary Lineker in 1986. That's quite some gap.

Whilst Everton's position in the top half of the table has remained fairly stable during the intervening period, the lack of a top striker created a ceiling, a limit to their potential achievement. With a forward capable of scoring 20 league goals, Champions League football could have been within their grasp. Without significant investment, such a player is hard to find.

Moyes' last game at Goodison against West Ham on Sunday exemplified the problem perfectly. At times Everton were majestic, with Darron Gibson and Fellaini acting as the pivots in midfield, allowing Baines, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas to maraud forward to devastating effect. The home side scored twice and yet (and forgive the cliché) should have had six or seven. Up front, Victor Anichebe worked tirelessly and held up the ball, but missed chances (such is his game) whilst the six-month wonder Nikica Jelavic looked on from the bench.

An Everton side that has had an average of over 16 shots per game in the Premier League this season (more than Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United) simply must be scoring more goals. Instead, they have registered eight fewer than any other side in the top seven, and only West Ham and QPR have scored with a lower percentage of their shots than the Toffees.

Tottenham have struggled with the same problem this season. Gareth Bale has contributed admirably in his playmaker role, but the lack of consistent form from Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe (albeit at a higher level than Everton's options) has undermined the club's bid for a top-four finish. Ask any Spurs fan what the club need this summer, and they'll write "goals" in rather large capitals before asking you for Daniel Levy's postcode and a first class stamp.

And finally, take the title race. Roberto Mancini's claim that Robin Van Persie has been the difference between the two sides may have been an ultimately futile act of self-preservation, but the Italian's point was clear - Van Persie's goals have won United seven points in the last three minutes of Premier League matches alone, and the Dutchman provided impetus to a squad in need of a response. On such differences are title bids forged.

And that is why strikers cost the big bucks. Because whilst an efficient defence, dependable goalkeeper and creative midfield provide the platform for success, the presence of a regular and reliable goalscorer removes the ceiling to limited potential. Anything that affords football supporters the chance to dream of higher glory will continue to be cherished.

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