No Messi task in picking the top striker
The definition of a striker has changed dramatically in recent years and as we reach the end of this strange football season, two legends continue to set the gold standard the rest are striving to reach.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have redefined how we view goalscorers and even at the back end of their careers, this incredible duo are scoring more than 30 goals a season at will.
They are not traditional strikers, but they thrive in set-ups that encourages them to burst from a wide position or a role just behind a central striker, and their scoring statistics prove that they are two of the best players ever to play the game.
Messi and Ronaldo have changed the game. If you rolled the clock back 30 years to my time in the game most English teams played with a 4-4-2 formation, that included two obvious strikers charged with scoring most of the goals.
Times have changed dramatically in an era when most sides play with just one man up front and – what would have been viewed as attacking midfielders – score a bulk of the goals.
Jack Charlton was often accused of being a little basic in his tactical approach to the game during his time as Ireland manager, but the approach he used back in the 1980s and ’90s saw him use me as his lone striker, charged with the task of creating space for others to burst forward and score.
It was a horrible job, let me tell you, but I would have done anything for Jack and Ireland. And it reaped rewards, as the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and Andy Townsend got into scoring position – courtesy of the space I created by pulling defences out of position.
That is very similar to what we see in the modern game and as the Champions League and Europa League reach a
belated conclusion over the next couple of weeks, a familiar pattern will be on show in most matches.
Lone strikers will be working their socks off to create space for those behind them, yet there are still a handful of strikers who fit the old mould and prove there is still a place for them in the modern game.
Top of that list has to be Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, who fired 34 goals in 31 Bundesliga appearances this season and he has also been on fire in the Champions League.
At the age of 31, Lewandowski’s scoring record is incredible as he has scored 304 league goals in 438 appearances – and he has to be regarded as one of the best out-and-out strikers of his generation.
Lazio’s Ciro Immobile has to get a mention as he fired 36 goals in an Italian league that is notoriously tough for strikers to thrive in and I have also been very impressed with young Erling Braut Haaland at Borussia Dortmund.
There was a lot of hype around this young man and he was strongly linked with a move to Manchester United last year, but Haaland ended up at Dortmund – and he has proved his worth, time and again.
He is a traditional centre forward and is built a little like Niall Quinn, but Haaland seems to score goals at a rapid rate and could develop into one of the best strikers in the world if he continues to develop at his present rate.
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has to be up there on the list of the world’s top strikers and his record over a sustained period of time has been hugely impressive and I’d also put Tottenham’s Harry Kane in the mix.
Kane struggles with injuries, but if he stayed fit and played in a top side like Liverpool or Bayern Munich, he would score 35 goals a season because he is a class act when a chance comes his way.
I’m also a big fan of Timo Werner, who I would like to have seen Liverpool signing before he moved to Chelsea, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a striker cut from the traditional mould and he proved his class by winning last weekend’s FA Cup final for Arsenal.
You will have noticed that I have not mentioned any of Liverpool’s dynamic forward line so far.
But Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are in the mix when we try to identify the game’s best forwards.
Salah touched Ronaldo and Messi levels when he scored 44 goals three seasons ago, but maintaining those incredible standards is not easy and that is why the ‘big two’ remain a class apart in the striker debate.
Yet all of these names are pretenders to the big two as even as they progress past their 30th birthdays, the ultimate modern day goal-getters are still the brilliant duo of Messi and Ronaldo.
I just favour Messi when the question over who is the greatest is raised, but it is a close call.
Ronaldo scored 31 goals as he helped Juventus win the Serie A title and while he is a big attention seeker and likes to promote himself whenever he can, he is an incredible footballer.
As for Messi, he might just be the greatest footballer of all time and even if his moments of brilliance are not flowing as consistently as they once were as he gets older, he is still a player that few can touch.
We will look back in years to come and appreciate that Messi and Ronaldo have operated at a level few have ever seen in the history of the game and they have done it for year after year after year.
They have set demanding standards those who will follow them may never emulate.JOHN ALDRIDGE'S TOP FIVE STRIKERS
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
3. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
4. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
5. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)