Creating a goalscorer is something that I feel we have been talking about for quite a while. For many years, coaches have been conditioned to believe that the 'art of scoring goals' is very much an innate one where the player is born with the awareness and intuition to position themselves in Earlier this summer, we had Oliver Gage on the MSC Webinar this summer discussing the role of data and analysis and challenging coaches to do more in this area. I definitely share Oliver's view and have previously written about this in my Modern Soccer Coach: Position-Specific Training book, released in 2015. With a more intentional approach to work on the training field and supported by video and tactical work around it, I truly believe that we certainly improve the ability of our center forward to get goals.
When studying goalscorers, there are not many better than Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandex. Just recently, he scored another "poachers goal" for his new club LA Galaxy in their first game of the MLS games in Orlando against Portland (see below). You can clearly see the movement here resulting in a goal, but what is more interesting perhaps is why he chose to go there. He is arguably in more space and out of the defender's vision with his initial position, but his decision to move towards the near post and towards more pressure allows his teammates to find him and by the time both defenders know where he is, the ball is in the back on the net.
Chicharito has made a career of doing this. Incisive movement in the box. One minute the defenders know where he is, the next minute, then suddenly he is gone. Below are some goals that he scored when he was at Manchester United. Again, it looks like Chicharito attracts the ball like a magnet, but you can see below that it's often two runs that he makes before he gets the final ball. the first run may be to take the defender somewhere, while the second run is into the space to score.
So can you coach this? And if so, how do you coach this? Those are the million dollar questions! While I believe that you can coach and develop these skills, I certainly do not think that they are easy. Putting it down to one or two things would be a gross oversimplification of the ability required to score goals. So in order to see how we would replicate it, I think we have to look at a range of aspects. Below are some of these that I would look at for coaches to address and consider when they are working with their center forwards.
1. Get Into Right Areas
After identifying the key areas to exploit, the first thing I would look at is improving the frequency of the runs. The more times that the forward attacks a certain space, the more their teammates understand their movement and key relationships can be developed. This requires an appetite and a willingness for the forward to do the work, along with an understanding that every run may not result in a goal. Alan Shearer once said that he had to make 13 runs to receive the ball once. Do your center forwards know where these key areas are? I don't think we should simply assume the answer. When Mikel Arteta was working with Manchester City, he talked about the work they did with Raheem Sterling on his positioning in an interview with The Guardian. “We wanted him much closer to the penalty area. It was like he was a bit scared of the goal. We wanted him to become the kind of player who would get us a goal every game, or even just missing two or three big chances. We wanted him constantly generating goal threat. And we wanted him to lose the fear. He needed to believe in himself, to believe that he could be the best.” It's a very powerful quote I feel, as fear, confidence and being "scared of the goal" exist at all levels. The role of data in the game has perhaps opened our eyes as coaches as to where goals are scored from and, as the level increases, so too does the detail. The playing style and the personnel also play a key role in what specific areas that the center forward must occupy at key times. Below is a video from one of the greatest goalscorers of all-time, Gary Lineker where he describes his decision making towards scoring goals and has a brilliant line: "It's not just about being in the right place at the right time. It's about being in the right place all the time."
2. Timing of the Runs
One aspect that I feel Chicharito does not get credit for is how he arrives into the space at the exact time that the ball is played. This is such a difficult skill to master because if you are too early, you are waiting for the ball and the likelihood of bringing a defender across increases also. Below is an insight into the mentality of Chicharito in a recent interview with former Manchester United teammate Rio Ferdinand in his YouTube show The Locker Room. What I think is really interesting here is how he points towards wanting to think quicker than everyone else, and how this extends to the '3-2-1' countdown with the fitness coaches.
Below is an example of this 'early start' when he was playing from his old club Sevilla against APOEL. You can see that Chicharito starts his run when the ball is on it's way to the wide player, rather than waiting until the after the ball is played. It's a small difference but one that you don't necessarily see with players who struggle to score goals. This allows him to lose the defender who appears to waiting for the service. He also runs behind the center back so that his movement does not get picked up at all.
3. Quality of Finishing
Even though his goals are predominately from close range, the speed at which Chicharito arrives into the box makes these finishes a lot more difficult than they looks. I'm guessing that this is from the work on the training pitch as he has build a great reputation for the way that he trains throughout his career.. In addition, when you watch the goals that he has scored throughout his career, there are a variety of different types of finishes, as you would expect from someone who has played at that level. He can score from close range, but also twist and turn to create a shot, volleys, 1v1s against the goalkeeper, and surprisingly perhaps, with headers. Below is example of an unorthodox heading technique for the goal that he scored for Manchester United against Stoke City. The ball is slightly behind him but he manages to adjust he body and change his technique where it's almost a 'backwards header'.
This is another similar example of this unique heading technique in the recent game against Portland which almost results in a goal.
4. Balance Tactically
Another underrated aspect of 'creating goalscorers' for me is the attitude of the coach towards their individual roles and responsibilities on the pitch. It's not enough to say, "We expect you to score goals", but instead, are you prioritizing this in your tactical shape? The work demands on forwards are huge today, on both sides of the ball. It's commonplace for a center forward to be the first line of defense when they are out of possession, and then offering an option higher up the pitch when they are in the build. But with constant checking to the ball and continual closing down off it, there's a good chance that the center forward will lack the energy to make these explosive runs into the box. I recently watched Mexico versus Germany in the 2018 World Cup from the tactical cam angle and, although it's only one game, you can see how strategic Chicharito is with his movement. In large parts of the game he seemed to serve no purpose defensively, despite Mexico being under intense pressure. Likewise, in possession, he was often redundant in the build-up and spent time where he was in a clear offside position in the build (see below).
To help develop a goalscorer is not an easy task, but one that I think can be done with commitment and work from both sides. Indeed, the role of the coach today cannot be understated. Goalscorers from previous generation, like dribblers, were developed on the street or in playgrounds. Without that culture today, the coach must adapt the environment to create more of these situations. A goalscorer will not be developed with a 45 minute 4v2 rondo and then a 7v7 possession game. Instead the coach must do more with session design and then identify where and when they want the center forward to attack specific areas, perhaps set up extra work where technique is refined, and then continually revisit the video or the physical data to see if the center forward has the capacity to get into those areas at maximum speed. In other words, it's very much a process. But if the coach does not trust it, they cannot expect their players to.
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