How would you define natural? Its dictionary definition is of a person having an innate skill or quality; he was a natural entertainer. In a footballing sense, a skill that comes instinctively, suited by nature for a certain purpose or function; a natural finisher, for example. But do we, England, have any? We used to. Flick through the pages of history and you’ll see names like Greaves, Shearer and Owen, Cottee, Lineker and Fowler. They were deadly; a defenders nightmare but times, unfortunately, change. With those six names retired, how about now?
Well, we simply don’t have one. With the World Cup in Brazil only around the corner, England is in desperate need of a natural striker. Not just for the present but also the future. Wayne Rooney is an excellent, thoroughbred footballer, but not a natural finisher. Neither is Daniel Sturridge, Rickie Lambert or Danny Welbeck. Jermain Defoe comes close but then he would rather take one last pay cheque to end his career in the MLS rather than the Premier League. Andy Carroll? No chance. Darren Bent? Potentially, but then Harry Redknapp’s missus could do better.
So what makes a striker a natural finisher? Is it as simple as goals scored? After all, there are various types of striker. A poacher may score more than a target man while the target man scores more than a second striker. Is Peter Crouch a natural goalscorer? No, he isn’t, but he does score goals. So it’s not just the record, the tally, but more.
Robbie Fowler is arguably England’s greatest ever natural finisher. He could sniff out a chance from five miles away. Shearer, Owen, Greaves, they were pretty good at it too. Lineker was the ultimate poacher, Cottee an assassin. They weren’t completely without flaws. Shearer lacked pace, Owen was small. But they just knew where the goal was. It was in their blood. Some have it, some don’t. And they had it. Nowadays, we’re in a sorry state. Natural, English goalscorers are a rarity. They are like the missing shiny card in your Panini sticker collection. Where have they gone?
Maybe it’s just cycles. They say it comes in threes. Either way, we could do with some London Bus magic. Ultimately though, it’s a sad reflection of our game that, in the Premier League, we are lacking a natural, clinical English finisher. You know the type. That striker with an uncanny ability to put ball into net. The one who is always in the right place at the right time. The striker with that smug look on his face. They are something to behold. If only Suarez was English and Aguero was born in Bognor Regis, not Buenos Aires.
That’s not to undermine or disrespect the likes of Sturridge, Lambert, Welbeck and others, of course. Merely it’s an observation. But it’s an observation worth worrying about.