False number nines mean no more No. 9s!
After their recent scoreless draw with Bohemians, some Derry City fans were on social media complaining about our lack of fire power up front and it got me thinking about the lack of out and out goalscorers in the game today.
Derry striker David Parkhouse has had a superb first season in senior football, scoring an impressive 18 goals in all competitions this season, but I believe he’s the type of striker that is slowly disappearing from the game at all levels.
With the introduction of the ‘false number nine’, which became fashionable a number of years back because the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi play in the ‘hole’ behind the front man, the true number nine has suffered something of a PR nightmare. The traditional centre forward is these days often viewed as something of a blunt instrument compared to modern portrayal of sophisticated, deep lying playmakers and goalscorers.
It’s crazy to think that not so long ago every boys’ dream growing up was scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final but unfortunately that dream is slowly fading away (or maybe evolving!) as the art of the out and out goalscorer, or ‘Fox in the box’ as Arsene Wenger so famously dubbed him, seems consigned to the past.
You always hear all the pundits from Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Graeme Souness to Brian Kerr and Kevin Kilbane say the hardest part of the game is putting the ball into the net so why is it the next crop of young players don’t want to play as a Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Michael Owen type striker.
Even looking at the League of Ireland, I believe Parkhouse, alongside Dundalk’s Pat Hoban and Georgie Kelly, Sligo Rovers’ Romero Parkes and Bohemians’ Dinny Corcoran, are the only real out-and-out strikers in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
Long gone are the days of Mark Farren, Johnny Speak, Glenn Crowe, Pat Morley, Seán Maguire, Jason Byrne, Eamon Zayed, John Flynn, John Caulfield, Gary Twigg, David McMillan, Liam Coyle. Noel Larkin and Brendan Bradley to name but a few. For some reason playing a clever defence splitting pass to set-up a goal seems to give this generation more of a ‘buzz’ than putting the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis!
Even at the highest level in England, Spain and Italy all the highest profile players seem to be the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Messi, Eden Hazard and Ronaldo - attacking midfielders or wingers.
Yes, in England you have Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero who are both top goal scoring strikers but they are now the exception rather than the rule.
Look at Manchester United. After the Red Devils decided to let Romelu Lukaku leave to join Inter Milan, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a top striker during his playing career, put his faith in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who not out and out goalscorers, although the England international may in years develope into a ‘proper’ number nine.
The situation is slightly different in the Danske Bank Premiership because the likes of Joe Gormley, Jordan Owens, Joe McCready, Shane Lavery, Johnny McMurray, Cathair Friel and James McLaughlin would all class themselves as goal scoring forwards and they have all started the season well.
But other players who have shone in the early part of the Irish League season have been wide men such as Martin Donnelly, Paul Heatley, Rory Donnelly, Ross Clarke and Kirk Millar while midfielders Philip Lowry, Hrvoje Plum and Andy McGrory have also been amongst the goals.
The top names in the League of Ireland and Irish League over recent years have been the likes of Daryl Horgan, Richie Towell, Gavin Whyte, Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy, Mark Sykes, Stephen Dooley, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe and Aaron McEneff and not one of those players are frontmen.
This season’s ‘Player of the Year’ in my opinion is Derry man Duffy. He has scored a superb 11 league goals for the treble chasers Dundalk and some of his wonder goals in other competitions this year has meant he’s the stand out player in the top flight.
Other top performers this season have been the likes of Jack Byrne, McEneff, Greene, Jamie McGrath, Ronan Coughlan, Danny Mandroiu, Ogedi-Uzokwe and, yes, you’ve guessed it, none of them are strikers - expect for maybe Coughlan although the Sligo front man likes to drop deep behind Parkes - in fact most of them are midfielders.
For Declan Devine and other managers in the local game I strongly believe it’s going to get harder and harder to find a goal scoring striker.
And for any young, talented footballer out there, (who isn’t playing FIFA 20 and is actually outside playing football, or course!), if you start putting the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis, you have every chance of becoming a folk hero for your club. You might even earn a few quid and, more importantly, gain a few hundred Instagram and Snapchat followers!