Monday, April 9, 2012

Why Super Mario Gomez is the world's best No. 9

Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of his generation, and, when all is said and done, might be remembered as the best of all time. His individual achievements have been praised to the heavens, and for good reason: these days, he shatters a record nearly every week.

In the era of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it is easy not to look past the La Liga stars. But in recent years, Mario Gomez has also achieved historic goal-scoring feats. This season, the Bayern Munich man has scored 37 goals in 41 matches in all competitions: more than Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, and any of Europe’s top No. 9s to have competed in the Champions League.

And Gomez’s strikes have not just come against lesser opponents: to the contrary, the Germany international has been eager to show himself on the big stage. This season he has netted 11 goals in the Champions League, plus another in a qualifier. Among all the great No. 9s of the last decade - Ronaldo, Henry, Shevchenko, Eto’o, Villa, Drogba, Raul, Ibrahimovic - the single-season tally Gomez has achieved has only been exceeded by Ruud van Nistelrooy, who managed 12. Gomez, who might play as many as four more games in this season’s Champions League campaign, is already in very good company indeed.

In the past, the beanpole striker has been doubted: his technique is merely average, he sometimes misses the simplest of goal-scoring opportunities, and his utter failure at Euro 2008 was suggestive of a player who could not cope with pressure.

He is a curious-type of striker: one who has an abnormal dependence on rhythm, and who is not the kind to win over legions of fans. When Gomez fails to score for three or more games, he looks second-rate: a player hardly worthy of football at a Bundesliga club, let alone the Champions League. And if he is relegated to the bench, it can take months for him to regain his confidence. But when in form, his prolificacy can be described at least as world class, if not legendary.

There was a time when Gomez was considered a ticking time-bomb, and that sooner or later, he would experience a slump and lose his form for two or three months. But by now, he has surely out-lived that reputation. The statistics alone are staggering: the ex-Stuttgart man was runner-up last season in the Champions League scoring charts with eight goals in as many appearances, and this season has followed up that sparkling record with an even better return

Over the last five years, only Ronaldo and Messi - who cannot be described as pure No.9s - have scored more goals in all competitions: Gomez, who has found the net 153 times in this period, is head and shoulders above every natural centre-forward. Forget the others - he has set the benchmark for consistency.

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