And just like that, the target man was reborn.
For all the esteem and glamour that surrounds the Premier League, the significance of the glory years should never be forgotten. It’s where the foundations were laid. The colossal ship was gradually built by those generational moments - Shearer's volley, Fowler sniffing the touchline, and Van Nistelrooy getting a dry snowman from the bullies at school after he missed THAT penalty.
As we watched the pitches get smoother, the haircuts get louder, and (the worst bit) the players become more introverted, those moments of severe drama were never far from the fans’ minds. All were contributions to the golden nugget mined by the suits that top-flight English football is today.
Out of all the memories, the strikers were always the posterboys. They bagged the goals. They were who the fans sang about. They created the product, indirectly creating the sentiment, and it’s a history that’s still appreciated even by younger supporters now.
But like anything, the game has evolved. Today, we see two teams in City and Liverpool that have led a tactical revolution for a number of years, more recently avoiding the stereotypical finisher in favour of the more intricate ‘false nine’. but don’t worry Jose, we won’t forget you. He was, perhaps, the original tactician that progressed the game from one based on grit, determination, know-how, good characters (shout out, Keano) and a will to win. Dennis Wise was held in high regard when he played, but he’d probably be pulling pints if he’d been around now.
Pep’s positional play and possession style from the chambers of La Masia has, for so long, been the perfect recipe, which only he can cook to perfection. It’s a dish created with the rarest of ingredients, which is why the rest don’t even bother trying. When Steve Bruce was in charge of Newcastle, he opted for the kebab, whilst Pep served up his spicy Paella, again and again and again.
Liverpool’s high-intensity pressing approach has been a joy to watch, as was the blossoming of the plan, but it was their full-backs and wingers that command the respect. As seen on Fifa, the ‘CF’ is an important link in attack, but we can’t deny the number nine shirt lost its prestige, somewhat.
Until now. The two top teams in world football have both invested in lean, mean, goalscoring machines, altogether a lot more sculpted than Cantona ever was. Somehow, I can’t imagine him being too keen on those 30-minute band resistance workouts after training.
It goes in line with evolution - the defining factor if you wish to remain successful in top-flight football nowadays. A defining factor that Klopp and Guardiola have got so incessantly right, and how fascinating it has been to watch both give their teams a paint job. Allison and Van Dijk was a masterstroke. Guardiola’s character blueprint has outshone even the MI5 recruitment process. Gone are the times of being able to rally the lads through fear and discipline, or getting your team fitter than everybody else by digesting your food quicker. Football used to be a war, but now it’s a chess match.
Make no mistake, these two teams have acquired their queens back. Nunez has got the lot, and under Klopp, no Kopite will have to worry about Shevchenko syndrome. Haaland is like the happy terminator sent back to destroy defences. They will ultimately be the ones that take the pawns as they steamroll their way through the season, but the question is, who will have the other in check mate?