Why Four Big Name Strikers At One Club Is Unsustainable
Much has been made about Manchester United’s legendary system of the treble-winning four strikers, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and with good reason. That season was probably the pinnacle of Ferguson’s Manchester United fiefdom, yet few teams have attempted to copy the 4 star striker model in the subsequent seasons, in spite of the success it brought, particularly in the Premier League. And yet, this season we have two teams plying alternate versions of it; United, who in signing Robin van Persie this summer, now have a striking quartet of van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez, and Manchester City, who have one of Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli.
In this particular battle of goalscorer overload, I think Manchester United have the edge. Don’t get me wrong – man for man, City probably have the stronger four players, but there’s a clearer hierarchy at United. In 1999, I think it largely worked because the established front two were Cole and Yorke, with Sheringham and Solskjaer keeping those two on their heels with substitute appearances and starts in lesser games. Ferguson seems to be trying to re-employ the same system, and it works because Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez can’t look Sir Alex in the eye with any credibility and tell him they should start over van Persie or Rooney. Welbeck may be more suited to the enforced supporting role than Hernandez, because as a player, he basically is Sheringham by way of the Fresh Prince, but either way, mutiny seems unlikely. At worst, Hernandez moves on in a year or two to get first-team football.
City, on the other hand, have themselves an exploding time-bomb of a situation. City have three £25 million+ strikers in the prime of their career, plus one £35 million+ striker in the prime of his career, fighting over two places. Sometimes one. None have immediately clear seniority over the other, and none seem happy to spend time on the bench collecting their fat pay-cheques for doing nothing – they can’t all be Adebayor. Tevez and Balotelli have high-profile emotionally erratic previous, and Dzeko may not be a headcase, but has made his discontent clear, something that carries more weight when he’s in the form he’s in now. Rotating all of them equally will be a situation none of them are happy with, and that would inevitably create poor performance in a team reliant on pinpoint passes and perfectly timed runs, AKA reliant on cohesion. Tick, tick, tick.
Mancini actually tried to play the four striker system last season, bringing in Aguero as a pre-emptive replacement for a Tevez that seemed to be on his way out, but also content for a scenario where he had all players. Mancini was perhaps saved from himself when Tevez’s meltdown and subsequent escape to Argentina occured, and Mancini played the majority of the season with just three star strikers. This makes a lot more sense to me, because places can be won and lost with relative fluidity and nobody is out for too long without truly deserving it, and the third choice will get constant substitute appearances and starts in games against Aston Villa and the like. With four, Mancini has two equal choices on the bench ready to go, and must always overlook one outside of the odd emergency situation. And with one assuming that Mancini will eventually come to see Aguero as undroppable, then at least one out of the three of Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli is going to be getting very little football indeed.
And yet Mancini was spotted at the latest Atletico Madrid game, forced to come up with reasons for why he’s not scouting Falcao. United’s system should, on the other hand, enable them to build around the single goal-scoring machine of Robin van Persie, a signing that will free up Rooney to play off the striker as opposed to having to play target man by necessity for United for the last couple of seasons. Mancini has the personnel to do something similar. He should be looking to build the attack around Aguero, a system designed for the best striker to score as many goals as possible; the most complimentary partner to Aguero is Tevez, so he should play, with a third striker who offers something different to come in and offer something different when needed, in Dzeko/Balotelli. Dzeko would be my choice, but Balotelli is probably Mancini’s. Either way, he should sell one of them in January and give the fourth striker role to a young striker with no entitlement and eagerness to prove himself, John Guidetti. Falcao? He shouldn’t be signed, unless Mancini is prepared to sell two of our current strikers, because the environment isn’t just competitive, it’s limiting.
It’s not that I think big-name or world class players are above fighting for their place or anything, but I don’t think there’s a permanent starting place to win at City for the three players that aren’t Aguero, and I think that fosters discontent, whereas with three strikers, I think you can manage. I’m not writing off Mancini’s ability to make it work, maybe he can, but I think the system itself is a product of indecisiveness, poor planning, or even gluttony. In my opinion, Mancini needs to pick a lane, or at least make it clear who and what he favours. Or that indecisiveness may breed.