Five secrets the world’s top strikers know

Published: November 9, 2010

Filippo Inzaghi is one of the world's best strikers.

For those of you that had the pleasure of watching Real Madrid take on AC Milan at the San Siro, I can say with some certainty that no one had their money on Fillipo Inzaghi scoring a quick fire double at the ripe old age of 37 against a squad worth some 300 Million euros.

What made the night even more significant was the fact that the two goals scored against Real Madrid put Filippo Inzaghi in the position of top goal scorer in all European competitions, with 72 goals, above German legend Gerd Muller and none other than former Real Madrid captain Raul, who left the club earlier this year. It also coincidentally pushed the total number of goals scored by Inzaghi for AC Milan to the highest ever in the club’s history with a whopping 125 goals. He also surpassed Dutch genius Marco Van Basten, who stands at 124 goals for the club.

This list of the three top scorers in European competitions comes as a surprise to even the most seasoned of football fans. What is even more shocking is the number of similarities in their careers.

The recipe for success it would seem consists of five major ingredients:

I. Success comes to those who don’t hop from club to club

One thing is for certain: the lure of a better contract at another club and thinking with your bank book won’t make you one of the most prolific strikers in the world – the top three in Europe mentioned earlier didn’t get there by luck alone. Gerd Muller, Raul Gonzalez and Inzaghi all seem to have commitment to their respective clubs as their highest priority. Muller remained at Bayern Munich over the great majority of his career. Raul was a product of the Real Madrid system and was one of the greatest captains the club had the pleasure of handing the armband to; he spent his entire career with Real until his recent departure at the hands of Jose Mourinho. Inzaghi moved from Napoli to AC Milan and never looked back. Having spent over 10 years with the club now at the age of 37, he turned down countless offers from some of the best clubs in the world to remain at AC Milan. Players that don’t change their allegiance every time their contract is about to expire seem to thrive, especially strikers. Quite frankly, I wish this idea made more sense to the new generation of footballers.

2. Being technical or quick hasn’t got much to do with being a goal scoring machine

You don’t need to be able to pull off a stepover with the same grace as Lionel Messi, or have the 100 metre dash speed that Theo Walcott can clock in his sleep to be one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time in Europe. That seems to be the case with the most successful trio at least. Muller wasn’t known for his speed, Raul was one of the slowest strikers to play for Real Madrid and Izaghi wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt. In fact, when Raul was still in his youth, one of the major criticisms he faced was he was too slow to play up front and perhaps even too slow to play top flight football. Now, being tied first for all time scoring in European championships is more than enough to have silenced the critics.

As for technical ability, Muller was probably the most gifted of the three and although plenty of people would be surprised to hear it, it is a coin toss between Inzaghi and Raul in terms of who was more technically gifted. I say this because, as a diehard AC Milan fan I got to see parts of the 90 minutes that don’t show up on the highlight reel.

Casual observers Super Pippo rarely saw the dozens of goals he struck in an offside position, only to be informed that the goal would be ruled void. A great example of Inzaghi’s arsenal of technical abilities would be the half volley he smashed in past Julio Caesar in AC Milan’s home leg against Inter Milan in 2008. This probably would have been one of the most significant goals of his career-were it not ruled offside, that too incorrectly, as fate would have it. So there is plenty of Inzaghi that doesn’t make the highlight reels that I am substantiating my stance on. This is not to say that the most successful trio in striking history were devoid of any technical skill whatsoever. Each definitely possessed a fair level of technical ability, but nothing outstanding in that department if compared to individuals like Lionel Messi, Allesandro Del Piero or the ever-popular Brazilian, Ronaldo.

No more than average technical ability and no speed required to be one of the best. None of this sounds right at all, does it?

3. Strength and height are overrated

The title says it all. In stark comparison to the Zalatan Ibrahimovich’s and Peter Crouch‘s of this world, none of the three most prolific goal scorers in Europe are particularly tall. Raul is 5″10, Inzaghi is 5″11 and Muller was only 5″9. That’s three dwarves in a sea of giants, especially when you put the average height of defenders in the modern game into perspective. It is the same in terms of strength, which is a quality none of the members of that trio are known for compared with individuals like Adriano, Clarence Seedorf or Didier Drogba.

I know what you’re thinking. You could have been a prolific striker had you known you already met these requirements earlier right?

How height can largely be discounted and strength somewhat, is explained best by the way in which these three scored the great majority of their goals.

4. The best in the business let their feet do the talking

Muller, Inzaghi and Raul all used their head to score goals sparingly. The overwhelming majority of their goals actually came in open play and almost none of them were the product of dead ball situations, other than the odd penalty they took. This is almost impossible to believe, given the importance of heading the ball well, especially in the modern game. That they were mostly scored in open play actually further vindicates their position in the pecking order when it comes to strikers in Europe, in that they had to work the hardest the get to where they got and deserve their record beyond a shadow of a doubt.

5. Hard work trumps pure talent

With less than stellar technical ability, less than significant height, little to no dead ball opportunities and forgettable speed, how did these three manage to overcome so many disadvantages? The answer is plain old hard work and hunger to score goals. To those of us that have been fortunate enough to have seen these men in action week in and week out, it would make perfect sense. Raul was fortunate enough to have an incredible midfield to back him, as were Inzaghi and Muller, but the truth is that they were all known for being incredibly persistent in front of the goal. So much so, that in an interview with Inzaghi after his second champions league victory with Milan, he was asked about whether he thinks his persistence pays off in the long run, he responded by saying that if he was offside 30 times during a match, he would assume that after a while even the lines mans arm would be too tired to lift the flag on his next attempt to score.

Raul was known for setting the bar in terms of focus during training at Real Madrid, which was well appreciated and recognized by David Beckham, who is known for the same. Hard work and persistence seems to be able to overcome every single potential deterrent to trying your hand at becoming the next star striker, the only thing thing this trio have in common happens to be their luck on the pitch, in terms of not having sustained serious injuries during the course of their career. This translated into more playing time and one would think more opportunities to put the ball at the back of the net.

So there you have it, the recipe for success. Start training at a young age. You don’t have to worry about being incredibly fast, naturally gifted, strong or tall. You just need to work hard, not get greedy, hope you don’t get injured and devote the majority of your career to just one club. Whether or not this generation of delicate players who think largely with their bank accounts instead of their hearts will understand that remains yet to be seen.


Farhad Aspy Fatakia

Part-time writer and full time information technology entrepreneur with a soft spot for Justine Henin. He supports AC Milan, despises what Real Madrid have become and thinks Phil "The Power" Taylor is the most under-rated sports personality of his generation. Farhad blogs at The Offside Trap, where he writes as ‘SuperPippo9’.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Usman

    Wow!! do you seriously think that these guys are/were the best in the business..they may have scored more goals because of long careers and by being at clubs with excellent midfields creating goal scoring oppurtunities. But none of them have been in the top 5 strikers in the world even in their prime.. Their ability to be at the right place right time is what sets them apart..and on purely this ability Ruud Nistleroy was untouchable..Recommend

  • Farhad Aspy Fatakia

    Usman. If you think that Ruud Van Nistelrooy was in the same league as Inzaghi in terms of poaching, then we come from drastically different schools of thought. Inzaghi scored dozens of high impact goals in crucial moments for Milan than any other striker in any other club I’ve seen in a long time. I watched Ruud closely because I have always been a fan of the Dutch team and it pains me to admit that he is less technically gifted than Inzaghi, any day of the week. Van Nisterooj had just as good a chance as Inzaghi to score in the top flight of top flights but never came close in terms of his goal scoring record in European competitions.

    As for your argument of gifted midfields creating goals, are you seriously trying to tell me that (Real Madrid and Manchester United) where he spelt a lot of his career were worse than AC Milan? Ruud had Zidane, Makelele, Reyes, Guti, Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves and David Beckham holding up the midfield. Are you going to tell me he was worse off than Inzaghi who had Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Emerson, Ambrosini and Kaka creating opportunities for him? Ruud had a better midfield and better service yet scored fewer goals. Both players had the same number more or less of serious injuries. Don’t get me wrong Ruud is a fantastic poacher and probably no.3 on the list of all time poachers this past generation after Crespo but there can only be one Super Pippo.Recommend

  • ravi

    Inzaghi has played for more than 7 different teams in his career. None of which are Napoli!Recommend

  • Shehryar Khan

    That is one hell of a testimonial for the fluke master! Recommend

  • Salman Shah

    Very informative succeeded in changing my views a bit towards judging a striker. :)

    Btw, Pippo Inzaghi is a true great. I have always been a great admirer of him. He doesnt make as many headlines as his counterparts will do but lets his feet take care of it all. And thats what really counts.Recommend

  • Salman Shah

    @ Usman

    ‘But none of them have been in the top 5 strikers in the world even in their prime..’ you have got to be kidding. Who were the top 5 in Raul’s or Inzaghi’s prime ?? Can you name anyone except Ronaldo ?? And how abt Nistelrooy’s record with national side & in European cometitions ?? Nistelrooy had his days in United only & that too of a great midfield they had. Recommend

  • Farhad Aspy Fatakia

    @Ravi thanks for pointing out the mistake in transcription. As we all know, he moved from Juventus for a ridonkulous amount of dosh. It must have been tough saying good bye to Zidane who was probably in his prime then, although he was always in his prime I guess.

    @Shehryar Khan – You have to be kidding me if you think that Inzaghi is nothing more than a lucky guy. 72 flukes in European Competitions alone and over 300 career goals should have one thinking otherwise no?Recommend

  • Farhad Aspy Fatakia

    @Salman – Thank you for pointing that out. I mention European Competitions throughout the article because I can’t say much for the guys that never make it out of South America some of whom are incredibly impressive but never get the publicity or support required to make it to the World stage very often. Well pointed out.Recommend

  • nayeem

    mate you got your facts really wrong. filippo inzaghi never played for napoli. he has played for these clubs in the following order. parma,atlanta,juventus,milan. initially started out with piacenza. secondly raul was never a product of real madrid system. he was in athletico madrids youth academy, but in his final year the president scrapped the youth system and so raul became a free agent, he was quickly signed by real madrid. thirdly your information is limited . what you are actually writing about is ‘finishers’ it is surprising how u left out ruud van nistlerooy, romario, ruud gullit, rivaldo, alan shearer, thiery henry, dennis bergkamp, gabriel batistuta, roberto baggio. please your article needs some strict reconsideration.Recommend

  • nayeem

    farhad i read one of your comment. sorry mate, your information is incorrect. when nistlerooy joined madrid, claude makelele was polishing his boots at chelsea. and nistelrooy had already departed when hargreaves arrived. . and makelele is not a creative midfielder, he is a holding midfielder. next time listen very carefully to andy grays commentary ‘THE MAKELELE POSITION’. u suggest that inzaghi is pivotal for milan. excuse me, when a guy called andriy shevchenko was banging in goals at ac milan inzaghi was just a bench warmer. sheva came in and owned the forward position.
    furthermore, inzaghi and zidane left juventus in the same summer. 2001. inzaghi lost his place to david trezeguet at juvenus. reyes was never a regular in the madrid starting eleven, neither was guti. please dont throw names at whim. Recommend

  • Shehryar Khan

    well if you come to think about it he’s one of those stikers who is in the right position at the right time. Not one of those conventional strikers and certainly he’s not the kinda player who’s gonna turn heads.
    You also have to give credit to Milan’s team and i do think that they had the kind of midfield that did support the player a lot.

    Many.. and i do mean many of his goals have been tap ins.. His record is impressive but i dont think he will be considered one of the many greats when he retires from football. Recommend

  • mike c

    this was propably the worst article ive ever read. the fact that your an ac milan fan and wrote inzaghi went from napoli to ac milan is embarrassing on your behalf. you should have at least done research to correctly state he played for juventus prior to joining milan if you werent 100% sure. by the way pippo never even played for napoli.Recommend

  • Bilal

    INzaghi….keep it up!! :)Recommend

  • Farhad Aspy Fatakia

    @Nayeem points well taken. The Napoli transcription error is corrected in the comments and will be by the Tribune as soon as they get around to making the change, over which I have no control. We all know he moved from Juventus.

    What I was trying to illustrate the great majority of those names was that Van N and Inzaghi didn’t have drastically different qualities of mid field. So that cannot be the sole factor over which one simply gives credit to Van N. Everyone knows Makelele is a holding midfielder, the point I was trying to illustrate was ball retention and creation ability of the midfields they both had. Though you are correct, some of these guys were moving at the time the truth is, both teams have had quality mid-fields at the end of the day and there isn’t much between them.

    Saying that Inzaghi wasn’t key for AC Milan’s success and that he was a mere bench warmer in the face of Andriy Svenchenko is a sweeping statement. 2007, 2 goals against Boca Juniors in the Club World Cup, most hat tricks in Serie A (10), 2007 Champions League final he scored both goals for Milan in a 2-1 defeat over Liverpool and an incredible brace en-route to the Champions League Final in 2007 that got them out of hot water in the final 14 minutes. These are hardly the qualities of a bench warmer as you have so simply put him. Give the guy some credit.

    Lastly, this article is centered around strikers that have had success in European Competitions which I mention over and over throughout the article. Which is my Ruud, Bergkamp etc. etc. are not mentioned. This is not a list of the greatest strikers of all time, but a strange set of commonalities that exist between three of the most effective in European Competitions i.e. UEFA Cup, Champions League, European Cup, Europa League etc. etc.

    @Sheryar Khan – Being at the right place at the right time over 70 times in European Competitions cannot just be dumb luck. Thats some serious talent and foresight that you don’t find in every striker/finisher/whatever you want to call him.Recommend

  • nayeem

    i think inzaghi is a great fox in the box player. but u mentioned 2007 champions league final. yar shevchenko was at chelseas at that time. and club world cup? does anybody watch it? ruud van nistlerooy has 62 european goals. but anyways its great that u wrote a football article and gave all of some thing to comment on. Recommend

  • Usman

    I believe some people have got a serious man crush on Mr. Inzaghi :) come on guys you all know hes not that good.Recommend