After agreeing a deal for Arsenal’s Robin van Persie yesterday, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made the grand statement of comparing his new look strike force to the 1999 treble-winning group.
“In 1999 I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the four best strikers in Europe,” he said yesterday.
“We are going towards that now with Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa.”
That is quite a statement. Other than making us think he may have put a bit of unnecessary pressure on himself, Ferguson’s comments got GMF wondering if he was actually correct.
It is difficult to compare players from different eras, but GMF is going to do it anyway; so, which is the better striker force – 2012 or 1999?
Trophies can’t be used as a comparison tool, because the new breed have only just been assembled, but there are still plenty of other aspects through which to do so.
Most obvious is goal threat and both sets of players have considerable numbers to back up a claim of superiority.
The treble winners scored a total of 76 goals between them in the 1998-99 season; Dwight Yorke, in his first season at Old Trafford, scored 29 times, Andy Cole scored 24, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got 18 and Teddy Sheringham chipped in with five of his own.
Though they haven’t played together yet the new breed have a formidable goal record from the last few seasons; Van Persie was last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner with 30 goals, and 38 in all, while Wayne Rooney was second in the Golden Boot race, scoring 27 of his 34 goals in the league.
Mexican striker Hernandez was not quite so prolific with 12 strikes in all, but he struggled with injury for much of the season and could not repeat the understanding he built with Rooney in his first season under Ferguson.
Young English striker Danny Welbeck wasn’t exactly prolific with 13 in all, but, as with Hernandez, his movement and hard work made a lot of the space that Rooney exploited so score so often.
Hernandez gained a bit of a reputation as a super sub by scoring when coming on, but he can’t really be compared to Solskjaer, who made a career out of coming off the bench and exploiting the weaknesses of a tired defence.
Cole and Yorke were similar strikers in the way they went about their games, which can also be said for Van Persie and Rooney – they both have the potential to swap positions as Cole and Yorke did, causing problems for defences.
He may not have score many goals that season, but Sheringham was all you could want from a “second” striker; his movement around the edge of the area was smart, the timing of his runs was clinical, his special awareness was impeccable and his eye for a team-mate in space was decisive.
Rooney and Van Persie both have the ability to spot a runner into the area, but probably not to the level of Sheringham, nor do any of the current front line posses his or Yorke’s heading prowess.
It is plainly obvious who United’s current best two are at the moment, so Welbeck and ‘Chicharito’ will be expected to start as understudies to them, but the same cannot be said for the treble-winners.
Yorke and Cole were prolific, but Sheringham was seen as classic foil for either and Solskjaer was constantly pushing for a place with his cameos – all this points to a better unit.
Van Persie and Rooney are probably the two exceptional players from the eight, but they are so dominant in their quartet it makes the unit as a whole suffer.
It remains to be seen whether Ferguson’s newest charges can emulate their great predecessors, but it is certainly going to be entertaining to find out