No bumper crop of strikers for clubs to harvest

Striker Gonzalo Higuain (left) did not have a memorable Copa America campaign, missing his penalty kick against Chile in the final.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain did not have a memorable Copa America campaign, missing his penalty kick against Chile in the final.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • It will be a tricky search for top football clubs looking for a world-class striker this off-season.

While it is still early days in this transfer period, the most eye-catching deals (Arda Turan, Petr Cech, Sami Khedira) and biggest names being touted (Paul Pogba, Sergio Ramos, David de Gea) are more valued for their qualities further back on the pitch.

At the sharp end? The pool does not exactly overflow.

When Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis recently reiterated his valuation of Gonzalo Higuain - just a mere nudge over £67 million (S$139 million) - it smacked of brinkmanship.

"If a madman arrives and offers to pay his buyout clause, then we must consider it," he said but it also shone a light on the state of supply and demand with strikers.

De Laurentiis knows there are willing buyers, without great alternatives on the market, so he can push the price up accordingly.

The same goes for Jackson Martinez, aged 29, who has joined Atletico Madrid for a fee in the £25 million bracket.

He replaces Mario Mandzukic, also 29, who left for Juventus.

Carlos Bacca, 28, has moved to AC Milan from Sevilla for his buyout clause of £21 million.

They are all proven, experienced European performers.

They are, in terms of availability and readiness at a high level, more or less the next best thing.

Midway through last season, Arsene Wenger observed there were not enough predators emerging outside of South America.

"If we look across the world of football, then South America is the only continent to develop strikers today," the Arsenal manager said, estimating that "at least 80 per cent" of the best attackers come from South America.

So it is slightly alarming to look at how the strikers fared in the recent Copa America. It was not a great tournament for them.

The top scorers were Peru's Paolo Guerrero and Chile's Eduardo Vargas, with four goals each.

One goal behind was Argentina's Sergio Aguero, Paraguay's Lucas Barrios and Chile's Arturo Vidal.

Guerrero and Barrios are both in their 30s and fairly well travelled, now back playing in South America, so their European days would appear to be over.

Guerrero is a traditional striker who played well in the Copa but his history of disciplinary explosions would make him a gamble for most suitors. He has just joined Flamengo, the club from Rio de Janeiro.

Looking more broadly around South America, Argentina remain the best served, with Aguero, Higuain and Lionel Messi at their disposal. Colombia also have a decent crop, with Bacca and Martinez, although they do not always get used to the best effect because of the desire to shoehorn an off-form Radamel Falcao into the team.

It will be interesting to observe where all this leaves a few big hitters in the English Premier League.

Chelsea delivered brilliantly last summer with their purchase of Diego Costa. Now, with Didier Drogba's departure, they have signed Falcao but whether he is the answer remains to be seen.

Manchester City, with Edin Dzeko perhaps on his way out and Stevan Jovetic disappointing in the goals stakes, would welcome an accomplice for Aguero.

Arsenal also need a second striker option to Olivier Giroud. Manchester United may also be wishing for a post-Falcao option.

Tottenham could do with an alternative to Harry Kane, who is able to provide more than Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor.

Liverpool might not have finished their transfer business as they look to solve their lean scoring streak last season.

Juventus spent quite heavily on Paulo Dybala from Palermo, an Argentinian who, at 21, has potential to refine his talent.

So who else is buyable? Is Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette, a lively young prospect, the answer?

And if he is, perhaps the question needs to be, where on earth are all the rest of the planet's emerging, potentially great strikers?


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2015, with the headline 'No bumper crop of strikers for clubs to harvest'. Print Edition | Subscribe