If one has to understand the importance given to “squad numbers” by our beloved historians of this sport, it would primarily have been to differentiate the footballers on the pitch. These numbers indicated position, with the first eleven being given numbers between 1 &11.
All of the 1 – 11 stand out and their individual contribution to a game cannot be undermined. But, lets focus on the No. 9 for this conversation.
According to “the people of the past”, the No.9 or the centre forward is usually referred to as the target man. The player, who has the responsibility of holding up play, outmuscling the opposition, winning headers and most importantly, scoring goals. That is what a person wearing a jersey with that number does.
Following the game nowadays, we all know that this concept (focus being the target man) albeit, exists, is not necessarily focused upon. Not all teams are lucky enough as Chelsea (Didier Drogba), AC Milan (Ibrahimovic), Liverpool (Andy Carroll – if I can consider this lucky) and Stoke City (Peter Crouch) or may be even his entire team for that matter. None of these wear No.9 except for Carroll, but are used as your classic “target men”. They hold, they use their heads and they score.
But the question is, does this notion exist anymore?
Today, we find ourselves in a setting where we could contest the expectations of a typical No. 9. There are two different variations here.
The first disparity would come in the form of tall but not strong. Examples include that of the versatile Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Edinson Cavani (Napoli) and the incredible Hulk (check out the video in the middle of the page) – menacing. These players are not your usual target men, but they entertain the same spaces, do what is required and notably, provide the important finishing touch. And it stands now; we would not look at them and say, “so and so needs to be like a Drogba or Shearer…” Instead, they say, “this is what a center forward should be like”.
The other would be of their shorter colleagues who take up that position. Examples here are that Segio Aguero (Manchester City), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), David Villa (Barcelona) and so on. These players have a higher goal-scoring tendency than the taller, more typical center forwards. They usually take up spaces that would otherwise be uncalled for. They show great strength to run past stronger defenses, which we had seen time and time again.
And then there’s Barcelona with an average height of the team being 5’6. Undoubtedly, one of the best teams in the world that is indeed in a class of its own.
I guess in the end, it all comes down to football jargon and a few remnants of the past that still exists. Based on the facts, that these so-called target men are becoming athletically agile and competent along with the diminishing tactic of long ball, it’s time we may want to brush aside the thought of No. 9.