Are Front Strikers Becoming Obsolete?

Do we need specialist Front Strikers in the modern game? I don’t believe we do.

This is a question I have pondered over for a considerable time as the increase in positional interchange by teams’ means less importance on positional specialization and throws more emphasis on individual playing qualities. Players of tomorrow will be expected to ‘find’ different positions and play varying roles in a single game as tactical systems become ever more ‘fluid’. Improved levels of individual skill that can satisfy the needs of any outfield position when occupied will produce a fuller range of tactical options in the game.

Up to today, the game has seen the consistent use of front player(s) who are literally ‘confined’ to the front area of teams’ formations. This often leaves these players isolated for long periods of games and results in both their under-employment and unavailability to join in a team’s preparatory play. This ‘loss’ of player involvement can be seen as a tactical waste and clubs’ are gradually drawing front players away from front positions and asking them to search for deeper spaces that allows them to combine more easily and frequently with their colleagues. Ball possession and player overloading have become increasingly obvious in the game-styles of numerous leading clubs located here and abroad. The use of strikers who are expected to ‘wait’ and compete (fight) the defensive ‘guards’ set against them, must surely become a tactic of the past, for their must be a transition towards multi-position rotations into and out of forward striking positions in the future game.

To take the game into the next tactical phase, higher levels of teaching (coaching) to provide ‘total’ playing standards will be required. I have always imagined a team that consists entirely of talented mid-field type performers who would have skills in conjunction with the physical and tactical qualities necessary to play ‘total football’

It may not be too far ahead before the often bloodied and bruised ‘waiters’ who have ‘lived on the shoulders’ of opposing defenders and fought them throughout the history the game will be just a memory of the past.  I believe a preference for more flexibility in tactical thinking to promote players capable of ‘arriving into’ and ‘departing from’ forward striking positions will gradually force the gradual demise and eventual disappearance of the striker role we have become accustomed to seeing.


I can’t wait for it to happen!

9 thoughts on “Are Front Strikers Becoming Obsolete?

  1. We wre actually forced to use this tactic at the start of the season just finished as our first 3 games were played with us only having 9 players so played 4-4. The first match we narrowly lost 4-3 with opposition manager congratulating us for having outplayed their side throughout the match. The next 2 matches we won and in the 4th match with 11 players we played Wolves Academy using a similar formation and won 3-1. (unfortunately we lost a number of players and struggled after that but that is entirely different).So it does work at U15 level and it was rather amusing to see the opposition leave 4 players back in defence marking no one whilst we controlled the midfield areas and played through. Its something I have been considering working on more during this post/pre season development training.

    I have always argued that there isnt really a set 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 formation but that formations are fluid depending on any given micro scenario throughout a game

  2. I think you are correct about ‘formations’. To my mind, formations are ethereal and forever changing during the ebb and flow of the game. The only time you really ‘see’ a formation is at kick off.

    Also, the old view that there are 3 units of players is no longer valid (if it ever really was – see below).

    We now see even on TV the apparent arrangement of players being spread over 4 ‘units’ (or 5 if you include the goalkeeper who is today even more involved in the game with a lot of clubs as a ‘player’ in the true sense of the word not just a goal-minder).

    But this has actually been the case for a long time. Back in 1966 Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ won the World Cup with what is described as a 4-4-2.

    But, in reality, Nobby Stiles played as a holding midfielder in front of a back four (Cohen, Wilson, Charlton J and Moore) with 3 attacking midfielders ahead ( Peters, Ball and Charlton R) with two ‘up front’ in Hurst and Hunt.

    However, even this now apparent 4-1-3-2 had flexibility with Moore, regularly bringing the ball forward ahead of the (now) back 3 and into the midfield to start attacks from there. So now, in possession, it starts to look a bit like a 3-1-1-3-2.

    And that doesn’t even take account of the raiding fullback when brought into attacking play!

    I think the concept of ‘visitors’ as John Cartwright calls them in his book” Football For the Brave ” has been around for a while and some nations have used them to more or less effect at various times (currently Spanish teams and from 40 years ago the Dutch teams although arguably the one is descended from the other anyway).

  3. It was said many years ago, around the time that Hungary outplayed England by 6-3 at Wembley, that the future of football belonged to the multi-purpose player. That is, one who could perform all roles and jobs in a team, depending on the ebb and flow of the game. We have had many players who you could call versatile, but in the sense that they can play a variety of positions. Paul Madeley of Leeds United was an example, because his Manager, Don Revie, knew he could give him any outfield shirt number, (when numbers on shirts related to their position in the team), and he could fulfuil that position. But Madeley did not move around the field playing a variety of roles in one match. Rather, he would play in midfield one week, centre half the next and then perhaps centre forward the week after.
    The best example of a multi purpose player we have had in this country, I feel, was from that era and that was Martin Peters. Shortly before the 1966 World Cup Peters was only on the fringe of the England team and way below first choice. One day England Manager, Alf Ramsey, rang Peters’ Manager at the time, Ron Greenwood , and asked the West Ham boss his opinion of the player. Ron Greenwood replied: “Give him the number 11 shirt and just let him go out and play”. After qualifying through the group stage unimpressively, England reached the 1/4 final and Peters was at last selected for the team. For the next three matches Peters was crucial to England’s success.
    Peters was the ideal all-round player. During his time at West Ham he played every position, even in goal. But in a single match he would be ‘ghosting’ into scoring positions from midfield, making perfectly timed tackles around the West Ham penalty area, and setting up a team mate with a well judged pass or lay-off. In many matches he played you could not label him as playing in a set position.
    Unfortunately, English football did not take up the challenge of creating more Martin Peters-types and so we have had specialists instead of multi-purpose players. It is the Dutch, inspired by Michels and Cruyff, and the modern Barcelona who have taken up the challenge whilst we have remained stuck in old ways. Only by vastly improved player development methods can we produce such players, otherwise we shall forever pidgeon-hole players into certain positions and roles from a young age. Peters, of course, came out of the street football era. He was lucky that as a young player he came under the wing of Ron Greenwood’s brilliant, innovative coaching because his talents and abilities were developed to the full. When he was still quite young, however, he was transferred to Tottenham and although he proceeded to have a fine career, I did not think that his development continued as it would have done at West Ham. He now became very much a positioned midfield player, rather than someone who moved around the pitch in relation to the state of play and position of the ball.

  4. Hi Steve. It was great to see you the other night at the LFCA session. I fully agree with your comments and there is a real need for our coaching to move towards producing more all-round football talent and allow them to play in more ‘fluid’ tactical systems.

  5. Eurosport is at present broadcasting matches from the UEFA Under 17 Championship in Slovenia. It is always intersting to see international teams at the various age groups. By far the best team which I have seen is Germany and on Wednesday they contest the Final against Holland.
    The Dutch are a huge disappointment in the matches I have seen. Last year they won the tournament, in fact they beat Germany in the final, and a feature of their play was its fluidity and the constant interchange of positions. But in this year’s tournament there is none of this. Stewart Robson remarked in commentary that this rotation has disappeared from the Dutch game and many Dutch teams have players very much ‘fixed’ into positions. This is very disappointing to see from a nation which gave ‘Total Football’ to
    the world.
    This Dutch team is sterile. Yesterday, in the semi final, their opponents, Georgia, played most of the match with 10 men after a red card, but it did nothing to change the pattern of the match because Holland still kept a back four and failed to get their full backs high up the pitch. Their midfield came deep to take passes of the centre backs instead of allowing them space to move forward with the ball into midfield to create overloads.
    These are the kind of criticisms we would normally be making about England. They are not in the Tournament and presumably did not qualify.I know that Johan Cruyff has had a lot of problems at Ajax in the last year or two and some people are opposed to the methods and ideas which he has promoted for many years now. I think that it has become a fierce political battle at the club and maybe it is affecting the way the Dutch develop the game understanding of their players.
    From what I have seen, Holland are in for a severe beating from the Germans in Wednesday’s final. Germany are excellent. They have movement and penetration. Their full backs get forward at all opportunities and are among their best attackers. They press high whenever possible and so defend in their opponents’ half for much of the time.
    I think that I recognise the Dutch coach in the technical area as the same as they had in last year’s tournament when they were so

    good. Presumably this year’s crop of Under 17s are simply much inferior

    technically, but it is their lack of game understanding, compared to most Dutch international teams, which is most disappointing.
    from an england perspective, we should look at the Germans

  6. Continuation of previous post…..
    From an England perspective, we should look at the Germans and identify what is good about their approach. There has always been similar physical and mental characteristics between the British and Germans and there is no reason why we cannot develop players and a playing approach based along the same lines. There is a similar tempo to the play and if intelligence and know-how can be harnessed to the hard-running style, then our football could be just as productive as the German model.

  7. Hi Steve. A great post. I have not seen any of the games you have mentioned in the U/17 Tourni. but your comments make excellent sense. The German’s , are always able to re-route themself back quickly from below par playing levels because (a) They have an excellent development infrastructure throughout the country in which they can make any necessary modifications. (b) They know how they want to play (vision). Neither of these important aspects are available here. What we have is a ‘hotch-potch’ of ideas that are totally un-linked and an infrastructure that was similarly ‘thrown’ together over many years and has been continually ‘tinkered’ with ever since with little or no success.
    Mind you King George’s is going to put all that right …. i don’t think so!!

  8. Hi Steve. saw the Final of the U17 Youth Tourj. last night. I was extremely disappointed with the quality on show. There was a lack of individualism as well as only average team-play from both sides………. Problem remains for us in that we never even qualified to play at these Finals !!

  9. Hi John. Yes, I agree, the UEFA Under 17 Final was very disappointing.
    The Dutch, as I said previously, were especially disappointing when you consider how good their Under 17s were in last year’s tournament. I thought that Stewart Robson made a good point in commentary, when he drew attention to the way that Germany’s strikers prevented Holland from playing out from the back.One striker went to press the German centre back who had the ball whilst his team mate dropped to ‘screen’ the Dutch midfield player Ake, who was constantly coming deep in order to take a pass from the defence to initiate an attack. When the Dutch centre back then passed an ineffectual square ball to the other centre back then the screening striker went to press him and his colleague dropped to now screen Ake.
    So there was the situation where a midfield player was killing the space which could have been used by a central defender to move forward into midfield and create an overload. When you think of great Dutch club and national teams down the years then this was so out of character and it is to be hoped that, for the good of the game, they soon return to their old principles and philosophy of Total Football.

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