English football has, for various reasons, an obsession with #9s and powerful, bustling centre-forwards. Long an obsession built on the direct football played in the county, there has been a massive resistance in the shift towards a different kind of forward in recent years.
The idea of a false nine or a lack of forwards who are over six feet has long been anathema to many fans of the English game. Well, in fitting with many aspects of British society at present, it looks like the return of the big, burly striker may be returning. In a race to return to the past, gargantuan goal-scorers appears to be on the agenda.
From Spurs buying the powerful but slow Vincent Jansen to the resurgence of Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke, big forwards appear to be making a return. Zlatan Ibrahimovic arguably leads the way in terms of the archetypical forward found in the English game, but Fernando Llorente, Troy Deeney, Sam Vokes and Salamon Rondon all show that this might not be the case after all.
Diego Costa, too, shows that the time of the false nine may be coming to an end. Only Liverpool, who prefer Roberto Firmino to the pure goalscorer they hold in Daniel Sturridge, tend to break the mold at present. Harry Kane, too, can be seen as a little different but he still primarily a goal scorer for Tottenham.
So, what made this change possible?
For one, teams are playing more robust styles this year. Direct football, faster pace to the play and a more up-and-at-‘em approach is making sure that teams need to adapt. The powerful defences this season also means that teams who want to use brains over brawn are finding themselves at a disadvantage, with low block defences making it hard for more diminutive forwards to shine.
We look to be on the way back to a more direct era before the Pep Guardiola style of play became entrenched in the modern game. With Pep failing in England, too, it’s interesting to see the glee held in the ability to return to old-school styles that make the use of a pure forward instead of something more dynamic.
In a rush to simplify play across the country, there’s a desire to get people back in the team who function to only fight and finish. It’s creating an interesting dynamic across the field, though, with teams in England caught between very specific styles of play that have taken hold recently.
It’s set to make a big change to the league, and the return of the pure #9 could be a good thing. With many teams reliant on midfield for goals in the last few year, we could see a more functional playstyle return to benefit the goals for column across the division.
It will also likely see an extra premium placed on those burly goal scoring sensations – especially if they are English!