Good news for Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi: lack of elite strikers means demand for their talent

When Manchester United realized they were about to miss out on signing Darwin Nunez, they did not immediately move on to their next goal. They couldn’t. There aren’t many similar players available right now, so the current sentiment is that it’s better to wait. RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku will be on the market next summer, and most footballers are waiting to see what Reims’ Hugo Ekitic decides.

However, the problem for anyone interested in any of them is that there is going to be a lot of competition. Such precious numbers have become nine.

It has already been the subject of this summer, with Liverpool being signed by Nunez and Manchester City to buy Erling Haaland. From City and Arsenal to Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, ​​almost everyone went to this window looking for a central frontman. Tottenham Hotspur are among the few clubs that did not do so because of receiving a rarity in Harry Kane.

It also gives England an advantage in this World Cup as the scenario is essentially the same in international football. So many top teams want number nine, but they have to improve. Spain persist with uncertain Alvaro Morata. The Netherlands is using Wout Weghorst. Hansi Flick is considering a wild-card option in Simon Terod, 34, who has spent most of his career at Germany’s second tier. This is also where he has done most of his scoring to promote Schalke.

It’s the theme of summer, but also the paradox of modern football. Everyone wants the number nine, because there’s still nothing quite like being able to put the ball behind the net, but few academies are actually producing them.

There is an increasing argument that academies do not know how to prepare them, because of how specific the situation is. Most now come about as “natural genius” or “accident”.

“There are very few strikers in football,” says one man working at the top of the game, “and they are declining annually.”


Liverpool’s new signing Darwin Nunez

Even Nez became a £85m signing after just one season scoring in Portugal.

Many in football put it in the “post-pep era”. This is not to blame Guardiola or even to say that most managers are trying to follow him in playing more midfielders. This is an unintended consequence of the Catalan’s immense influence on the game, particularly with regard to possession and pressure.

This has created a world of coaching, which is expanding beyond Europe, where there is a conveyor belt of technically proficient players. The vast majority of young graduates have mastered all the technique and basics of positioning, meaning most players are midfielders and – based on athleticism – inverted wingers and full-backs.

This has had the added effect of younger games where much of the game time is spent outside the box, with the ball being rolled and swung around.

Some liken this to “perfect laboratory conditions,” but these are not prerequisites for making the number nine. This is because the position remains so specific, arguably even more so because the forward has been asked to do more in normal play.

Its most essential characteristics remain “instinct, movement and refinement” and all rely more heavily on matchplay for development than any other position. Quite simply, Number Nine needs to get the balls off defenders’ backs, as well as get into the box and learn both fashion and finish opportunities.

These are aspects that are not as easy to rectify when their training and academy games involve operating as something close to “inverted number 10s”. A Premier League manager recently complained that a young striker he really admired had no title potential as he had never really had to do it at youth level.

It’s not quite a “lost art”, but it is something that a growing number of football figures involved in the field are thinking about and wanting to rediscover.

“Bring me a centre-forward,” is one of the most common calls in executive offices, from an early age to the first team. It’s just that they are almost dependent on people with pure natural talent for the conditions to develop independently.

When academy figures talk about the next generation in England, just a few names come up. Among them are Chelsea’s Ronnie Stutter, West Ham United’s Sonny Perkins, Crystal Palace’s Zach Marsh, Rangers’ Rory Wilson – who is set to move to Aston Villa – and City’s Liam Delp.

It’s still only a group of 10 or so, though, when most scouts and coaches really want a generation of around 30-40.

It begs the question of how clubs and federations intend to solve the problem and – more deeply – how do you create the modern number-nine.

Norwich City recently attempted an experiment where their academy teams played 4-4-2 consistently, so that there were always two strikers on the pitch, and each age group developed a minimum number of strikers. However, it didn’t work out, one of the reasons being that no one plays 4-4-2 anymore. Like, it just didn’t fit.

Meanwhile, the German federation sent research teams to Argentina a few years ago to see how they produced some of their famous rugged Number Nine. If they visited recently, however, DFB scouts would have found the disappointment in Gabriel Batistuta’s home as well.

Diego Huerta, a football executive and scout whose work contributed to Argentina’s title in racing, says that even his country has begun to incorporate more homogenous elements of European football.

“We will probably only have Lautaro Martinez as that type of striker in the World Cup,” explains Huerta. “The kind of education players receive now is excellent in terms of coaching methodology, but it lacks that element of street football.”

This is something Arsene Wenger argued for almost a decade ago, expressing the belief that it was only South America where the young forward was still learning to “fight” with defenders. It has now developed there as well.

This may force them to move to divisions or overseas to learn their trade, where there is little more space. There is no pressure for big sixes, and more play is likely on the pitch than in the Premier League.


Michael Obafemi with his man of the match award after the Scotland game. Photo: Sportsfile

For example, some officials were enthusiastic about the performances of Tottenham Hotspur’s Troy Parrott and Swansea City’s Michael Obafemi for Ireland against Scotland last week.

Both could end up with Ben Brereton and Ryan Brewster as case studies. Highly rated as youngsters, the Irish duo looked like wasted talent, both of whom were initially to go down to relentless unsuccessful performances. Parrot has some huge debts, Obafemi went to the city of Swansea. There is now an optimism that those seasons really represent just the kind of finishing schools such forwards need – who can now improve their finishes for the long haul.

It similarly helped Ireland and the two players that their instructions were to get into the box rather than actually run from the wing.

It indicates two other connected elements of the position. Strikers can learn these traits – even the psychological aspect – later in their careers.

Diego Milito was Huerta’s boss in racing as the club’s sports manager, and was one of nine numbers who came close to returning a goal every two games later in his career.

“He was the one who became a ‘killer’ only after he was about 25 years old,” Huerta says. “I remember saying he had learned the specific movements for number-nine when he worked with Marcelo Bielsa on the national team, that he hadn’t really been shown until that moment.

“We call them contramovimientos. [Krzysztof] Piatek scored several similar goals in Genoa, where the attacker goes behind a defender, then makes a diagonal movement in the opposite direction. It is almost impossible for the centre-back to defend because it is two diagonals in the opposition when he must see the ball and the attacker at the same time.

Milito said it was like entering a new world for him. Bielsa did something similar [Patrick] Bamford at Leeds United, and it comes with his video analysis. It shows how certain movements can be trained. ,

Many in the game would cite similar coaching influences from Jurgen Klopp on Mohamed Salah and Maurizio Sarri over Dries Mertens, who both moved up to second level in terms of scoring. He also did a lot in scoring by leaping off the wing.

Some of that is just a necessary response to how the game has evolved, however, rather than a solution to the issue. It’s also instructive that Klopp, out of all people, is going for a number-nine like Nunez. Even Xavi, a high priest of Guardiola’s principles, is pushing to bring in the game’s biggest number nine right now in Robert Lewandowski. And that’s 34.

We can see things coming full circle in a broad sense.

It’s possible that this push, and this summer’s rush, will give academia a response for the foreseeable future. There is a growing belief, spreading largely from Italy, that the future of the game is to revolve around seven outfields with only three hard-fixed positions: a centre-half, a central midfielder, a centre-half. Forward.

The history of football has also been defined by the reshaping of the game, frequent reactions to what happened in the past. The forward was initially pulled back in the outfox defence. Now, with many teams playing three backs, managers can return to 3-5-2 – and two distinctive forwards – to give new problems to the opposition sides. This is already being seen in League One and the lower end of the Championship.

For now, the outlook ahead is pretty clear: General quality and numbers are going down – and price is going up.