Many positions in football have died over the years. Wingers became useless in the 4-3-1-2, the 3-5-2 became rare and so did the sweeper, and now the poacher is joining them on the scrap heap. Poachers aren’t completely dead, but the poaching sort of player like Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Ruud Van Nistelrooy do not exist at top level clubs. Owen played with United this season, and scored a few goals, one which was a classic poachers goal, against Manchester City. Poachers no longer work for good teams because besides putting away chances they don’t add anything else to team play, unlike a false nine or more complete forward does.
False Nine/More complete striker vs The poacher
One reason for the death of the poacher is that false nines and more compete strikers simply add more. They create chances by dropping deep, like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Lionel Messi do, and allowing midfielders to make runs into the box. There is also the Big Man holding the ball up and creating chances, like Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole, Bobby Zamora and Peter Crouch, who is 7th in assists, and 11th in chances created. The poacher usually doesn’t create chances unless he has pace and can use it to create chances like Michael Owen did in his hey day. However, if the poacher doesn’t have pace, he’s not going to create chances by getting into the box or sitting on the shoulder of the last defender; he may score the chances, but he won’t create them.
What Can the Poacher do?
The poacher still has some value, though not for the top teams. One example is Kevin Phillips, whose 250th career goal, which came for Birmingham against Arsenal, showed the value of a poacher. Despite the goal coming off his nose or shoulder, he got into the box, and he finished a chance. Poachers still have some value for a midtable or lower team, or for a team that isn’t playing well and needs the goals. A case in point is Darren Bent, who Tottenham seemed quite happy to go, despite him being their top scorer. The reason is with Pavlyuchenko, Crouch, Defoe and Keane they had more complete strikers; of all strikers, Defoe is 14th in assists, while Bent is 47th, with only one.
The poacher isn’t dead, not by a long shot, but the days of a poacher being at a top club, like Ian Wright at Arsenal, Van Nistelrooy at United and Fowler and Owen at Liverpool are over.
The reason for the title being “ode to Kevin Phillips”: Phillips is one of those poachers, and despite 36, has still has the quickness to score goals, and now has 250 in his career. He never played for a top team, but put together a good career, and is the kind of player whose breed is dying.