Five secrets the world’s top strikers know
The world's best footballers seem to have a few things in common besides pure talent.
For those of you that had the pleasure of watching Real Madrid take on AC Milan at the San Siro, I can say with some certainty that no one had their money on Fillipo Inzaghi scoring a quick fire double at the ripe old age of 37 against a squad worth some 300 Million euros.
What made the night even more significant was the fact that the two goals scored against Real Madrid put Filippo Inzaghi in the position of top goal scorer in all European competitions, with 72 goals, above German legend Gerd Muller and none other than former Real Madrid captain Raul, who left the club earlier this year. It also coincidentally pushed the total number of goals scored by Inzaghi for AC Milan to the highest ever in the club's history with a whopping 125 goals. He also surpassed Dutch genius Marco Van Basten, who stands at 124 goals for the club.
This list of the three top scorers in European competitions comes as a surprise to even the most seasoned of football fans. What is even more shocking is the number of similarities in their careers.
The recipe for success it would seem consists of five major ingredients:
I. Success comes to those who don’t hop from club to club
One thing is for certain: the lure of a better contract at another club and thinking with your bank book won’t make you one of the most prolific strikers in the world - the top three in Europe mentioned earlier didn’t get there by luck alone. Gerd Muller, Raul Gonzalez and Inzaghi all seem to have commitment to their respective clubs as their highest priority. Muller remained at Bayern Munich over the great majority of his career. Raul was a product of the Real Madrid system and was one of the greatest captains the club had the pleasure of handing the armband to; he spent his entire career with Real until his recent departure at the hands of Jose Mourinho. Inzaghi moved from Napoli to AC Milan and never looked back. Having spent over 10 years with the club now at the age of 37, he turned down countless offers from some of the best clubs in the world to remain at AC Milan. Players that don’t change their allegiance every time their contract is about to expire seem to thrive, especially strikers. Quite frankly, I wish this idea made more sense to the new generation of footballers.
2. Being technical or quick hasn’t got much to do with being a goal scoring machine
You don’t need to be able to pull off a stepover with the same grace as Lionel Messi, or have the 100 metre dash speed that Theo Walcott can clock in his sleep to be one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time in Europe. That seems to be the case with the most successful trio at least. Muller wasn’t known for his speed, Raul was one of the slowest strikers to play for Real Madrid and Izaghi wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt. In fact, when Raul was still in his youth, one of the major criticisms he faced was he was too slow to play up front and perhaps even too slow to play top flight football. Now, being tied first for all time scoring in European championships is more than enough to have silenced the critics.
As for technical ability, Muller was probably the most gifted of the three and although plenty of people would be surprised to hear it, it is a coin toss between Inzaghi and Raul in terms of who was more technically gifted. I say this because, as a diehard AC Milan fan I got to see parts of the 90 minutes that don't show up on the highlight reel.
Casual observers Super Pippo rarely saw the dozens of goals he struck in an offside position, only to be informed that the goal would be ruled void. A great example of Inzaghi’s arsenal of technical abilities would be the half volley he smashed in past Julio Caesar in AC Milan's home leg against Inter Milan in 2008. This probably would have been one of the most significant goals of his career-were it not ruled offside, that too incorrectly, as fate would have it. So there is plenty of Inzaghi that doesn’t make the highlight reels that I am substantiating my stance on. This is not to say that the most successful trio in striking history were devoid of any technical skill whatsoever. Each definitely possessed a fair level of technical ability, but nothing outstanding in that department if compared to individuals like Lionel Messi, Allesandro Del Piero or the ever-popular Brazilian, Ronaldo.
No more than average technical ability and no speed required to be one of the best. None of this sounds right at all, does it?
3. Strength and height are overrated
The title says it all. In stark comparison to the Zalatan Ibrahimovich's and Peter Crouch's of this world, none of the three most prolific goal scorers in Europe are particularly tall. Raul is 5″10, Inzaghi is 5″11 and Muller was only 5″9. That’s three dwarves in a sea of giants, especially when you put the average height of defenders in the modern game into perspective. It is the same in terms of strength, which is a quality none of the members of that trio are known for compared with individuals like Adriano, Clarence Seedorf or Didier Drogba.
I know what you’re thinking. You could have been a prolific striker had you known you already met these requirements earlier right?
How height can largely be discounted and strength somewhat, is explained best by the way in which these three scored the great majority of their goals.
4. The best in the business let their feet do the talking
Muller, Inzaghi and Raul all used their head to score goals sparingly. The overwhelming majority of their goals actually came in open play and almost none of them were the product of dead ball situations, other than the odd penalty they took. This is almost impossible to believe, given the importance of heading the ball well, especially in the modern game. That they were mostly scored in open play actually further vindicates their position in the pecking order when it comes to strikers in Europe, in that they had to work the hardest the get to where they got and deserve their record beyond a shadow of a doubt.
5. Hard work trumps pure talent
With less than stellar technical ability, less than significant height, little to no dead ball opportunities and forgettable speed, how did these three manage to overcome so many disadvantages? The answer is plain old hard work and hunger to score goals. To those of us that have been fortunate enough to have seen these men in action week in and week out, it would make perfect sense. Raul was fortunate enough to have an incredible midfield to back him, as were Inzaghi and Muller, but the truth is that they were all known for being incredibly persistent in front of the goal. So much so, that in an interview with Inzaghi after his second champions league victory with Milan, he was asked about whether he thinks his persistence pays off in the long run, he responded by saying that if he was offside 30 times during a match, he would assume that after a while even the lines mans arm would be too tired to lift the flag on his next attempt to score.
Raul was known for setting the bar in terms of focus during training at Real Madrid, which was well appreciated and recognized by David Beckham, who is known for the same. Hard work and persistence seems to be able to overcome every single potential deterrent to trying your hand at becoming the next star striker, the only thing thing this trio have in common happens to be their luck on the pitch, in terms of not having sustained serious injuries during the course of their career. This translated into more playing time and one would think more opportunities to put the ball at the back of the net.
So there you have it, the recipe for success. Start training at a young age. You don’t have to worry about being incredibly fast, naturally gifted, strong or tall. You just need to work hard, not get greedy, hope you don’t get injured and devote the majority of your career to just one club. Whether or not this generation of delicate players who think largely with their bank accounts instead of their hearts will understand that remains yet to be seen.