Football is a game which constantly changes, moving quickly through era to era making it one of the most exciting and refreshingly new sports around.
In the early days of the 1990’s we had the age of ‘4-4-2’ when almost every club played two out and out wingers who could cross for two big true number 9’s to score.
In the early to mid 2000’s we had the ‘age of the athlete’ when clubs were looking to 6ft+ players with good engines and physical strength, an era in which players like Essien, Bouba Diop, Muntari etc. thrived. Then we moved into the era of the ‘little man’ in which we are currently living, an era in which players like Silva, Messi, Mata etc. are the most sought after talents with their low centre of gravity, vision and creativity the most desirable traits.
Through all these eras and changing times however some things have remained constant. Sure the style of play, formations and desirable players have changed but things such as rough and ready centre backs, tough tackling midfielders coupled with a creative ability and true centre forwards have remained.
The start of the downfall of this went relatively un-noticed, the introduction of ball playing centre backs. Rio Ferdinand could be considered the first high profile defender who sacrificed some defensive quality for good ball playing ability. Since then most teams are now looking for defenders who can play, Barcelona have Pique who can be suspect in defending but has good technical ability. Chelsea have David Luiz who, well I think we can all figure that out.
The days of players with traits such as Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, John Terry and Terry Butcher as the most desirable centre back traits are long gone but now I ask are we seeing the start of a long process which just may see the death of the number 9?
Barcelona have revolutionised football over the past few years and they may well be the club with starts the dawn of this new era. Barca play Messi up front (on the team sheet at least) and we can all agree he is far from a recognised centre forward but when he scores 70 goals a season Barca can be forgiven for not playing a number 9.
However, we go to UEFA Euro 2012 and the opening group game between Spain and Italy. Despite an array of talented number 9s in the squad Spain choose to start without a 9 and play Fabregas, a midfielder up front! The consensus being that managers want a front four who can all swap and interchange during a game.
Now your probably thinking, Barcelona, Spain its obviously a Spanish thing…Wrong. France are doing something very similar, they play a front four with Benezema as the 9 but against England and Ukraine he far from stayed up front. Instead, him, Ribery, Nasri and Menez interchange and most of the time all end up stood on the same wing.
Remember the days when a number 9s job was to score goals? Well now it seems even the teams which do play a 9 want him to do more, they want him to be a link man and interchange with wingers and midfield players, the days of Lineker, Shearer and Van Nistelrooy seem to be becoming a distant memory.
I can’t say catergorically that this transition won’t benefit football but I can say I miss the days when teams lined up 4-4-2 with 2 full backs who defended and blocked crosses, 2 centre backs who put everything on the line, 2 wingers who got the ball beat a man and crossed, midfield players who tackled hard but passed so well and 2 strikers who scored goals and nothing more.