Germany's lack of strikers in football

Are strikers going extinct?

Interview: Raphael Honigstein
Photography: Getty Images  

Drogba, Zlatan, Kane – the Premier League loves a Big No. 9. So why are the Europeans phasing them out? Former German academy coach Hannes Winzer explains it all to Raphael Honigstein.
Raphael Honigstein
Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein is The Red Bulletin’s expert football columnist and also writes for The Guardian and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

THE RED BULLETIN: Following Euro 2016 one got the impression Germany don’t have real strikers any longer. How do you see that?

HANNES WINZER: We’ve a lot of really good strikers in Germany. But when we’re looking for the classic target man of old times, then it’s true: we aren’t world-class, especially not in terms of depth. However, which country is? How many strikers like that are there? And why does the cry for that [type of player] come up now?

Yes, why?

It’s because Germany were so dominant on the ball at the Euros. They had heaps of possession, played in the opposing half a lot, but didn’t know what to do next. That’s why people from the outside think, “Now we need a No. 9, so we can chip the ball high into the area and he can head it in.” But that doesn’t do the complexity of the game justice. It’s only half of the story.

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So what would be the full story?

You always have to take into account which general philosophy a team follows. The German game – much like that of most top teams – is oriented towards dominance and possession. When that’s of little avail up front, some automatically think a “real” central striker and a few crosses can fix things.

Occasionally, that can be an option – when you’re chasing a game for 10, 15 or 20 minutes – but you don’t really want to see this type [of football] for the other 70 minutes.

Possession football works much better with agile, quick players who press together. A real No. 9 maybe doesn’t manage that so well. This means that their team’s defence comes under pressure more quickly and the problem that you can’t break through up front doesn’t even come up because you don’t have the ball. Systems make or break players. If a player doesn’t work in a system, he can’t be a part of it.

The trend in the last few years, starting with Spain and Barcelona, was towards “false nines.”

“Ronaldo and Messi aren’t like Clive Allen” – BT Sport’s Des Kelly tells it like it is.

© YouTube // BT Sport

Will the true No. 9 completely vanish in the future?

I don’t believe that. But the challenges for central strikers have become so very complex that classic strikers can hardly meet them. Nowadays it’s demanded that the man roams a lot up front, effectively interrupts the opponent in the build-up phase, combines play and wins one-on-ones with the ball at his feet as well. There are practically no players who can do those classic and modern elements. Robert Lewandowski comes closest to that ideal, but he’s exceptional.

Why don’t Germany have such an exceptional striker?

What’s an exceptional striker, then? 

“Flick was in Valencia wondering how they manage to produce so many good left-backs. The Spaniards said: ‘Well, if we knew we’d produce great right-backs as well.’”

One who scores an incredible amount of goals.

Thomas Müller comes very close, also in the national team. Even if he goes without a goal for a number of games. People admired Antoine Griezmann in France, but he had it relatively easy. The French had big problems in the build-up and therefore had a lot of space in many games. There he could excel much like he does at Atlético, but he also struggled against deep-sitting teams like Portugal. [Germany has] a lot of Griezmann types: Brandt, Draxler, Reus, Sané, Götze, Schürrle, Bellarabi. They all have good tempo, are flexible between the lines and can score goals. That’s why I’m not worried at all.

German national team sporting director Hansi Flick recently said that they’ve identified the striker problem and are working on it. Scoring goals seems to be a problem after all?

One factor that should never be underestimated in football is luck.

Flick was in Valencia wondering how they manage to produce so many good left-backs, as Germany have a full-back problem. The Spaniards said: ‘Well, if we knew that we’d produce great right-backs as well.’ A template that’s fitted to develop youth players in specific positions doesn’t exist.

You can learn quickness and sturdiness to a certain degree. But, let’s look at Lewandowski again: he lives off what mother nature gave him and the ability to move his body in a certain way. You can’t breed that.

Robert Lewandowski, role model of a modern striker

© YouTube // Jheffootball

Strikers aren’t considered sexy anymore
Hannes Winzer, former DFB academy coach

Since 2000, the Germans have mostly bred quick players. Do some other aspects of the game fall short because of that?

Around the turn of the century we suffered from a severe lack of those kinds of players – wingers, dangerous No. 10s. The orientation towards technique and creativity has produced a surplus, while other aspects [have been deemed less important].

So players who could have become classic strikers are at a systemic disadvantage?

That’s a general problem in educating players. If you’re quick and have good technique, you’ll be supported. If you’re not, you won’t be. The relatively tall, not-quite-as-agile players who don’t catch your eye on first sight frequently fall behind. Societal factors play a role in that, too, I think.

Which factors would that be?

Today’s generation grew up with YouTube. They watched clips of the best tricks by the greatest-ever players hundreds of times. [They’re not emulating goalscorers,] the finishers, poachers and push-the-ball-over-the-line players. Rather, it’s the artists, the magicians who dribble past opponents or play genius passes.

This started in the ’90s with the Nike ad campaigns featuring the Brazilians. Ronaldinho stood for his tricks. It wasn’t emphasised as much that he also scored goals. The true central strikers aren’t considered sexy anymore.

Hannes Winzer, licensed former DFB academy coach, used to play alongside Per Mertesacker in Hannover 96 youth teams. Today he works as a player agent and among others advises Serge Gnabry.

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08 2016 The Red Bulletin

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