Wall Street Football

Past, Present and Future of Number 9

Saturday April 23, 2022 is the date for what has become over the years the most important match in the Bundesliga: “Der Klassiker”, Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund. 

A rivalry built up over the last 10 years thanks to the rebirth of the Dortmund team, but which has little to do with the historicity of the great classics of Spanish, Argentine or Italian football.

Once again this year the teams are at the top of the German league fighting for the Meisterschale

The Bavarian team has almost secured the championship with 9 points lead over their Ruhr rivals, with 4 games to play, who have a last desperate chance to reopen the championship on Saturday.

This will be just one more opportunity to see two of the world’s best forwards at this moment playing on the same pitch: Robert Lewandowsky and Erling Håland.

They are on two different parabolas of their careers but both fundamental to their teams and recognised as among the best in world football.

This dichotomy shows how much the conception of the “classic forward” has changed over the years in terms of characteristics and approach to the game.

Both embody the prototype of the old-fashioned number 9: either in terms of size which allows them to protect the ball and be dangerous with their headers (1.85 m for the Polish and 1.94 m for the Norwegian), and for their desire to score and live for the goal.

However there are characteristics that make them unique in the present. 

Lewandowski is, along with Benzema, one of the most “technical 9” in the world.

His ability to play for the team (not only in the penalty area), to use both feet very well, either to finish the action or to serve teammates, and the ability to score in every possible way make him one of the most complete strikers ever seen.

He makes around 22 passes per game, including 1.1 key passes, completing 17 of them with 78% accuracy.

In all competitions he only made 6 assists, 3 in Bundesliga and 3 in Champions League, but the numbers don’t tell how important the Polish player is for the team’s maneuver.

His ability to protect the ball, bring the team up and move in offensive space to allow the insertion of his teammates is uncommon and certainly not typical for an old-fashioned number 9. However, his goal scoring abilities are unquestionable. 

He has ranked second in the all-time list behind a legend Gerd Müller (365) with 309 goals, he’s the four times Bundesliga top scorer in the last four years and winner of the 2020/2021 Golden Shoe.

This year he scored 32 goals in 30 games, shooting 4.7 times per game of which 2.4 on goal with a performance index of 7.2 make him the perfect offensive terminal.

Lewandowski WSF Performance Index – Season 2021/2022

In the present world of football, there is also Erling Håland, who in recent years has become a serious contender for the title of Europe’s most decisive striker making so many goals and breaking as many records.

Such as being the youngest player to score 50 goals in the German league and the one who needed fewer games to score them, in 3 seasons 58 goals in 63 games. Or the speed with which he reached 100 goals in the professional ranks with only 146 games played. 

An impressive goal average of almost a goal per game.

To all this, however, is added a characteristic never seen for a striker of that height, an impressive speed.

“Strong as a bear, fast as a horse”.

This is how he was described by Norwegian journalists at his first games, in the Champions League match against Paris Saint Germain in 2020 he recorded a time of 6.64 seconds in the 60 meters. 

For comparison, the world record is 6.34 and the Norwegian record 6.55.

This combined with a great spirit of sacrifice and great athletic ability make him a striker capable of covering the whole field and being lethal in front of goal.

Born in July 2000, he can already count 23 goals in the Champions League in just 19 games, a predestined player.

Despite his already strong qualities there are still some aspects of his game that have shortcomings.

For example, the inability to exploit his physical strength to the best of his ability. During the whole season, considering the various injuries that forced him to miss 10 games out of 30 in Bundesliga, he has an average of 5.5 duels attempted, of which he won 2.2; an average much lower than the Bayern Munich striker who makes twice as many, almost 10 per game, and wins 4.2.

Nevertheless, he made many more assists than his rival 7 against 2.

His shooting statistics are 3.3 shots per game and 1.6 shots on goal still scoring 18 goals in 20 games with an average performance index of 6.9.

The future belongs to the Borussia Dortmund striker for his age and according to market rumors he is expected to join Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the end of the season to start winning and define his status. 

But undoubtedly Lewandowsky has set the bar very high for standards of longevity, technique and achievement for a striker that could be the main characteristics of the number 9s of the future.

Will they create a trend for their selection or will they remain a unicuum on the world stage?

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