LONDON (REUTERS) - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes European forwards have gone soft and says the majority of the world's elite strikers now hail from South America.
The Frenchman cited the demise of street football, which is still prevalent in South America, as the root of the issue.
"If you look across Europe and the world of football, then South America is the only continent to develop strikers today," Wenger told a news conference. "At least 80 per cent come from South America.
This season's Premier League top scorers list is dominated by players from South America with four - Manchester City's Argentinian Sergio Aguero, Chelsea's Brazilian-born Spain striker Diego Costa, Arsenal's Chilean Alexis Sanchez and Leicester City's Argentinian Leonardo Ulloa - in the top seven.
Barcelona's free-scoring side is led by the South American trio of Argentinian Lionel Messi, Uruguayan Luis Suarez and Brazilian Neymar, while Juventus' Argentinian Carlos Tevez and Paris St-Germain's Uruguayan Edinson Cavani are among the leading forwards in Italy and France respectively.
"Maybe in our history street football has gone," said Wenger. "In street football when you are 10 years old, you play with 15-year-olds so you have to be shrewd, you have to show that you are good, you have to fight, win impossible balls.
"When football is more formalised, it's less about developing your individual skill and fighting attitude. We've lost that a bit.
"We're much more protective and have all become a bit softer. If you go back 30 or 40 years in England, life was tougher."
As an example Wenger pointed to Sanchez, who has been impressive since his 35 million pounds (S$72 million) close-season move from Barca with a series of vibrant, energetic, exuberant, high-octane performances.
He said the 25-year-old, who has scored eight goals in 15 games in all competitions since his move to the Premier League, has many of the traits, such as tenacity and toughness, that epitomised his once-feared Arsenal defence.
"He reminds me of the first generation of English players that I had - Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown. This kind who is just ready for the fight," Wenger added.
"He has a natural level of energy that is unbelievable. You would love everyone to have it but it does not work like that. He wants to learn, he has a very positive attitude. He's a winner."