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Eye On EPL

Sorry goalies, but strikers surely have the toughest job in football

I dare say that the most stressful job on the football pitch is to score goals.

That is not because, as a former striker, I am biased. Many people believe that goalkeepers have a thankless job but strikers are just as liable to go from hero to zero and we are under extreme pressure to score in every game.

Just look at the contrasting fortunes of the English Premier League (EPL) hit-men. Inevitably, their clubs' fortunes are chained to their form.

After a slight blip, Tottenham are firing again thanks to Harry Kane's hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Stoke over the weekend.

That was the Englishman's third hat-trick in nine games, taking his tally to 102 club goals at the age of just 23, hitting more than 20 EPL goals in his each of his last two seasons and he already has 17 league goals this campaign.

It is not as if a striker's life is not stressful enough. The whole team depend on the scorers. They always have to convert any chance that comes their way, that means being 100 per cent physically and mentally ready.

At the other end of the table, Swansea had looked doomed earlier in the season but Fernando Llorente is almost single-handedly dragging them out of the relegation zone.

The Spaniard is on fire right now, with the team playing to his aerial strengths and helping him notch nine times in his last 18 league games.

When I played in the S-League, coaches like Richard Bok (Warriors FC) and Vorawan Chitavanich (Tampines Rovers) got the best out of me. They gave me freedom to express myself and respected what I can do. As a striker, you need to feel the confidence of the people behind you.

To illustrate my point on the importance of strikers and how they need to be given confidence, look no further than Diego Costa.

Antonio Conte utterly changed the brooding Spaniard; the transformation is unbelievable. Costa is like a man possessed now, full of belief and full of fire. The right motivation can make all the difference.

He scored 12 times last year in a turbulent season under Jose Mourinho but the Italian manager has revived the striker's belief. Even though Costa sulked during the transfer window for a failed move to China, Conte maintained a good relationship with him and the Brazil-born forward is still firing the goals, 16 and counting, to keep the Blues on top of the table.

In contrast, teams without an out-and-out striker seem to struggle when their other goal getters lose form.

Liverpool are a team who play without recognised strikers because playmaker Philippe Coutinho and wide players Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana were all chipping in.

But once Coutinho was injured and Mane was off to the Africa Cup of Nations, the goals dried up and the Reds went into a slump.

Arsenal are also playing without a recognised No. 9 and their title hopes are fading by the week.

Meanwhile, Jamie Vardy went from total hero to absolute zero in the space of a year.

He had scored for fun last year but it is now apparent that he is probably an average striker who depends too much on his pace.

Sergio Aguero must be feeling down right now. In recent weeks, Pep Guardiola has been benching him when he was previously guaranteed a starting slot. This will kill his confidence.

Perhaps, Guardiola feels the Argentinian does not suit his style but what is clear is that Manchester City, who have arguably the strongest squad in the EPL, are trailing in the title race.

It is not as if a striker's life is not stressful enough. The whole team depend on the scorers. They always have to convert any chance that comes their way, that means being 100 per cent physically and mentally ready.

It definitely is the hardest job in football.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Sorry goalies, but strikers surely have the toughest job in football'. Print Edition | Subscribe