Monday, June 05, 2006
What Makes a Striker?
I'll tell you this, Ronaldinho has it, and more.
Hi, my name is Matt, and I'm a choke-a-holic.
The problem throughout my time playing striker is this: I can't finish. Last weekend in a co-ed match, I spurned a gilt-edged chance for the 4th straight game. My friend Nick scored 5 goals in that game. I've scored twice all season.
I cut my teeth playing in the midfield and make a nice pass from time to time, but I've played more minutes as a forward than as a midfielder (thanks to my indie-guitar-waif frame and defensive ineptitude). When presented with a yard of space and a chance to score: I hesitate, I think, I try to place the ball around the keeper. Instinctually, I always have. It's not a totally worthless instinct, the same instinct that causes me to hesitate in front of goal affords the time to measure the proper weight of a pass out of midfield.
Ever since I started playing striker--and choking worse than David Brent during Comic Relief Day at Wernam-Hogg--I've found myself wondering how a true goal-scorer puts the ball in the back of the net on the order of 5(Nick) to 1(me). The question comes to this: is a true striker born or made?
The evidence supporting my argument for this answer is anecdotal, observational and dubious at best. If I were a real goal scorer, this would probably piss me off. I would probably think to myself, "Oi, I work damn hard to score my goals/develop my craft/kick ass the way I do/break my metataral" then I would think, "I'm going to put this Stephen Malkmus-wanabee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavement_%28band%29) into a dumpster."
However, the real-goal-scoring me would be wrong. The choke-artist me is right. No doubt goal scorers work hard, but everybody does. They've got something that sets them apart and in their practice and preparation it is sharpened. A striker is, after all, the "tip of the spear."
That something is an instinct. Just like my instinct to take a moment to evaluate my options, it's something that a player just has. A goal scorer has the instinct NOT to hesitate, NOT to think, NOT to try to place the ball around the keeper. The true goal scorer shoots and forces the keeper to make the save. Like Antoine Walker recieving a pass anywhere inside the opposing team's half a striker shoots first and asks questions later.
My list of the best strikers in the world: (1. Shevchenko, 2. Rooney, 3. Henry) is also a list of the three players I would argue have the most finely developed goal scoring instincts in the world. Van Nielsterooy is a poacher supreme, as are Crespo and Inzaghi. The Brazilians Ronaldo, Adriano and Robinho have the instincts as well but aren't quite at the level of the other three (at least, not right now.) If you watch any of the goals those three forwards scored in the just completed club season, I'd be willing to wager that the majority of the time they shoot without hesitation and force the keeper to try to do his job (unsuccessfully).
However, I think the distinction between these two instincts, is best expressed by two plays from the same player. The best player in the world at the moment: Ronaldinho.
His goal scoring instinct put Barcelona through to the quarterfinals of the champions league as the no. 10 beat three Chelsea defenders (including going shoulder to shoulder with England's pillar of defense John Terry and staying on the ball) and firing the ball low, hard and nearly directly at Peter Cech and into the back of the net. No hesitation at all (note his post-goal celebration above).
His passing instincts put Barcelona through to the final. In the semifinals against Milan, Ronaldinho held the ball from Genarro Gattuso, paused a moment and placed a deliciously weighted ball into the path of Ludovich Guiliy who (in a moment of pure goal-scoring instinct) fired past Dida to send Barcelona to the final.
The best player in the world has both instincts AND the ability to call on them as the moment dictates. Which makes him the best.
Thankfully we'll have a chance to see them all in a few days, on the worlds largest stage, and you can see just how right I am.
Again, Junior Mints are always appreciated.
(photo credit to uefa.com, it is copyrighted by Getty Images)