For me, judgement must be based on three strict criteria.
The first, obviously, is how many they have scored. When considering a list of the greatest goalscorers of the last 29 years, an impressive strike rate is a given. Some players demand inclusion in the top 10 because their prolific nature and all-round brilliance makes them impossible to ignore. However, when a career is fully assessed, that alone is not enough.
That’s why the second consideration – the number of trophies won – must determine who features nearer the top, who is lower than expected, and who misses out completely.
When studying the impact of modern strikers – and I should reiterate I am talking specifically about goalscorers rather than playmaking No 10s – my point of reference goes back to my youth. In the mid-80s, two of the most prodigious forwards were Ian Rush and Gary Lineker. I watched Lineker in all of his Everton home games and several away fixtures in 1985-86 when he scored 40 goals in 57 games in a single season. His feats for England – including the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup – secured his reputation. But he could never match or eclipse Rush.
Why? Because of the third and most important criteria of all. We have to weigh up the timing of a striker’s goals, and their value to a successful trophy quest.
Rush scored seven fewer than Lineker in 1986, but – as was the case throughout his Liverpool career – his contribution was the critical difference as his club won the biggest honours. Rush’s 12 goals in the last 16 games of that season, including two at Wembley in the FA Cup Final, secured ‘The Double’.
Strikers who score the goals that define a team’s season – or in some cases a club’s era – must rate higher than those who earn congratulations for their personal milestones.
With all that in mind, here are my top 10:
10. Harry Kane
Kane needs no reminder of what his career is lacking. It’s the reason he sneaks into this top 10, and why – given my selection criteria – some might ask whether he should be in at all given that strikers like Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Vardy, all of whom won major honours, miss out. Kane must be included because of the volume of goals. With 175 already, injury permitting he might break Alan Shearer’s modern league record and eclipse Wayne Rooney’s England tally. But the reality is this: Kane will not move any higher up this list without the biggest prizes. Then he will be challenging my top three. The fact he is tied into a long contract with Tottenham under a chairman who would demand an extraordinary fee for a striker approaching his late 20s means there is no guarantee a title-challenging club will meet his valuation.
9. Dwight Yorke
It sometimes feels like Yorke and his strike partner from Manchester United’s 1999 treble campaign, Andy Cole, are the forgotten men in these lists. Yorke scored 29 in that historic season, one more than Cole, and won the Premier League Golden Boot. The immediate impact of Yorke following his move from Aston Villa is often overlooked, and his influence on that trophy-laden season alone is enough to earn him inclusion, including two against Inter Milan in the 1999 Champions League quarter-final, and the equaliser against Juventus in the second leg of the semi-final in Turin. That is why he edges out the United strikers who followed him like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie. Many will argue the Dutchmen were better players, but they didn’t have the same effect on United in terms of the number of trophies won.
8. Luis Suarez
I imagine this will be the most contentious selection given my criteria. Suarez only won the League Cup during his time in England, enjoying his greatest triumphs with Barcelona. But no list of the greatest Premier League strikers is credible without him. In my opinion, there is only one striker better than him in the Premier League era. Suarez was a force of nature, and although the English title was elusive, no-one will argue that Liverpool were agonisingly close in 2014 because of his 31 goals in 33 games (no penalties). Had Liverpool got across the line, Suarez would be challenging for a top-four spot in this list and acclaimed for having the single-greatest impact on a Premier League season of any other footballer, let alone striker. As a former teammate, I can personally vouch for how extraordinary he was, and his strike rate was even more prolific than Shearer and Mohamed Salah.
In total, Cole scored 187 Premier League goals. For perspective, that’s third in the all-time list and more than Thierry Henry and Sergio Aguero. And unlike most No 9s, Cole did not take penalties. But Cole’s goal career went beyond hitting several notable personal landmarks. He lifted the Premier League an amazing five times during his six years at Manchester United. What elevates Cole above Yorke is his previous contribution at Newcastle where he scored 50 Premier League goals quicker than anyone, and his 34 league goals in 1993-94 remains the joint-highest in a single campaign. The more you assess what Cole did following his high-profile move from Tyneside to Manchester, the more you realise he has been neglected too often since his retirement. That may be because he had minimal impact for his country when compared to his clubs, but the medal haul counts here.
6. Mohamed Salah
Salah stands out on this list because, unlike everyone else on it, he is not and never has been a typical No 9. Deep strikers such as Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp were not part of my consideration because of that, but Salah has to be an exception because his primary purpose during his Anfield career has been to score, and his statistics have been off the scale since he joined Liverpool. In each of his three seasons at Anfield he has won either the Golden Boot, the Champions League or the Premier League. He may do so again in 2021. We often talk about Virgil van Dijk being the signing who changed the course of Liverpool history, but it was Salah’s arrival in 2017 which kick-started the transformation under Jurgen Klopp.
5. Wayne Rooney
Rooney is Manchester United and England’s leading goalscorer. That in itself would earn him a place on this list before we consider his five Premier League titles and Champions League victory in 2008. From the moment he became the youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick – still aged just 18 – Rooney was destined to rewrite the record books. At his best he was more than just a goalscorer, but to me he was always at his best on the shoulder of the last defender when he was capable of every type of goal. He retired with 208 Premier League goals and in time the scale of his achievements will be more fully assessed and recognised as he became one of the defining players of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
4. Didier Drogba
Drogba was the ultimate big-game player. Whenever I came up against him, it felt like I was going to war. Mentally and physically he was as demanding as any opponent, and what makes him particularly special is how often he delivered at critical moments, securing major honours for Chelsea. His two Golden Boots contributed to four Premier League titles and he famously scored the critical equaliser and the match-winning penalty when his club lifted the Champions League against Bayern Munich in 2012. Drogba scored in all of his four FA Cup Final victories, becoming the first player to achieve that. He also scored in Chelsea’s League Cup successes, maintaining an unrivalled record in finals.
3. Alan Shearer
Shearer remains in the top three as much for his stint at Blackburn Rovers than his goal feats for Newcastle. The Premier League title was won in 1995 thanks to Shearer’s 34 goals in 42 games. Without him, the fairytale would not have happened. Newcastle broke the transfer record in 1996 in the hope he would have the same impact at St James’ Park, not necessarily break Jackie Milburn’s goalscoring record. Shearer’s 260 Premier League goals – including three Golden Boots – remain the benchmark for future generations. It may never be beaten. Had he won another title at Newcastle, there would be a stronger argument from me that he could be No 1. But the shortage of trophies compared to my top two means the goal count is not the only factor.
2. Sergio Aguero
Aguero scored the most iconic Premier League goal ever. Given the context, the events leading to that famous shout of ‘Agueroooooo’ in 2012 can never be eclipsed, not only because it enabled Manchester City to pip their neighbours to the title, but because it helped change the shape of the Premier League forever. The 94th-minute winner against QPR was Aguero’s 30th of the season in 2012. He matched or beat that on a further four occasions, while collecting four league titles and is sure to add a fifth in his farewell season. Aguero was a goal machine at a club where he led the transition from being serial underachievers to serial winners.
1. Thierry Henry
There is only one winner in this list. It amazes me that anyone would ever debate it. It is not even close. Henry is not only the greatest Premier League striker, he is the greatest Premier League player. At his peak, he was unstoppable. He won the Golden Boot four times while winning two Premier League titles at Arsenal. In the year of ‘The Invincibles’, he scored 39 in 51 appearances. Between 2001 and 2006, he scored at least 30 goals in every campaign, and no player has delivered so spectacularly, so often. Henry has more goals per game than anyone else on this list, and he also shares the record number of assists in a season. That shows he was the complete striker, changing modern perceptions of what is expected of a typical No 9.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you agree with Jamie’s selections? Would you change the order or is there anyone you would pick in the top 10 instead? Have your say in the comments section below and join the debate…
Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.