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The number 9 is reborn

Thursday 2nd March 2017
The EFL cup final between Manchester United and Southampton was a neutrals dream, a 3-2 score-line, a late winner, and a fight back from a losing team to boot. But despite the thrills and spills, a cup final brings one thing was resoundingly clear. The traditional number 9 striker has made a stunning comeback.

Both Manolo Gabbiadini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace each in the Wembley showpiece, with both players being commended for their performances. The former arrived into the premier league in January and has proved to be shrewd addition by Saints manager Claude Puel. The latter of course needs no introduction, a household name in the world of football and at the age of 35, the big Swede is showing that he was made for the English game. The two of them showed that the big number 9 poacher certainly isn't dead just yet! Despite the evolution of the game and the ever popular "false 9" along with all the multiple striker variations being adopted by so many teams, the traditional man up top isn't quite extinct yet even if some believe it is.
After the World Cup in 2014 Sky Sports' Tony Cascarino wrote that the "number 9 was a dying breed" and at the time of publishing his argument was compelling. James Rodriguez had just won the Golden boot, the ever present Lionel Messi clinched the player of the tournament award and Brazilian sensation Neymar raised his stock in his home country despite suffering a tournament-ending injury in the knockout phase. All of these players, despite their varying positions, share one thing in common, none of them can be considered as a "number 9". Now, of course, the guidelines for such a label aren't set in stone, there's no rule book stating what this type of player does or what he should be like. But we all know a big number 9 centre forward when we see one. They have an unmistakable style.

Cascarino, of course, didn't claim that the big number 9 was gone for good but that they were a dying breed however recently we have seen a big resurgence. We've already spoken of Manchester United's talisman this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is everything that a traditional striker would be labelled as. He has the stature, the nose for goals and even the footballing ability to accompany this. He has 26 goals in all competitions this season and has arguably got better as this season has gone on. Ibrahimovic isn't the only striker to fit the bill, not by a long way! Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players seem to be coasting to the title, with a big lead and little sign of floundering as of yet. Their top goal scorer at this point? Diego Costa. If you need to describe a good old fashioned number 9 to someone unfamiliar with the term you need only show footage of this man. He is in the very best terms, a nuisance! A bully to centre halves with a nose for being in the right place along with a pantomime villain persona that is born from such abilities.

These two are just the tip of the iceberg, Harry Kane has burst onto the scene the past 3 season, with goals in abundance too! You could even go as far as saying he is England's best striker now at such a tender age of 23. His build and scoring record are somewhat reminiscent of Alan Shearer, a classic case of a top draw number 9. Whilst on the subject of young goal scorers Romelu Lukaku is proving to be worth his weight in gold at Goodison Park after his big money move to Everton. The Belgian is another number 9 type player, he comes to life in the box and is in the right place time and time again. Even further down the table, Watford have their captain and talisman Troy Deeney. Despite only coming to the Premier League last season his classic "difficult to handle" style of play has reaped the rewards.

Even outside of the Premier League a traditional number 9 isn't a thing of the past. Gonzalo Higuain made a sensational move to Juventus last summer and has scored 19 goals in 26 games this league campaign. Former Manchester City Striker Edin Dzeko mirrors these stats in Serie A this season, with the Bosnian undoubtedly falling into the big number 9 category. Not to mention Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski who is arguably the most sought after striker in the game. His stats are simply outrageous across the board and seems to score every weekend. He fits the earlier outline, he is an intelligent forward who can find the positions and in turn, find the net too.
There is certainly a case to suggest that for a time the "big man up top" type player was at an all time low, however the resurgence is there for all to see. More and more teams seem to be recruiting a big striker and making them the focal point of their team, and with the stats to show for it who could really blame them. Perhaps some teams are even missing that spearhead in their attack to take them on to the next level.
Ryan Stewart

23 years old, Sport Journalism graduate living in Salford. Work in web content in Media city and always looking to break in to sports writing. Manchester United season ticket holder.

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