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Football: Wright a model for modern striker

Ian Wright needs two goals to eclipse Cliff Bastin's 58-year scoring record for Arsenal. Glenn Moore looks at the art of scoring and the Gunners striker's place in the pantheon of hit men
The goalscorer of the week, Germany's Oliver Bierhoff, said after his five-minute hat-trick against Northern Ireland that his art was simply a case of "closing your eyes and whacking that ball".

Jurgen Klinsmann took a more considered line. "Goalscoring has to be within you but, while it is a natural talent, it has to be developed and nourished with a lot of work."

Ian Wright, who hopes to overhaul Cliff Bastin's 58-year-old Arsenal goalscoring record at Southampton today, is inclined towards the latter view. Always a natural goalscorer, even while playing amateur football in south-east London, he has refined his skill as a professional, learning much from partners like Mark Bright, Alan Smith and Dennis Bergkamp.

Goalscorers are the glory boys, the ones with the highest transfer fees, highest wages and highest profiles. Team-mates may sometimes resent this but they know they cannot do without them. Ronnie Moore, newly installed at Rotherham, echoed the lament of managers everywhere when he said on the season's eve, "we could do with a 20-goal-a-season striker."

There are not many about. In England only eight players have scored 20 goals in each of the last two seasons: Wright, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Dwight Yorke, John Aldridge, Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne. Look back four seasons and all but Shearer, Wright and Aldridge have dropped out. Only Wright has scored 20 goals in each of the last seven seasons.

Wright's obvious physical quality is his pace, others, like Ferdinand, have great heading ability while Ronaldo has supreme ball control. Some, like Aldridge, have none of those aspects in abundance but are gifted at simply being in the right place at the right time. "It's all about movement in the box, getting away from your marker," he said, adding: "It's a matter of instinct."

Consistent goalscorers are cool finishers with a range of executions. They are usually mentally and physically strong and brave with plenty of confidence.

They are also, admits Wright, selfish. In his recent autobiography, Wright owned up to the greediness required. "I have never seen a top striker who has not had the selfish streak in him," he wrote. "Anybody who plays up front and says they're happy to see the team win even if they don't score is a liar. Sometimes you say that because you don't want you don't want a big-headed image but deep in your heart you know its rubbish. I'm desperate for goals: they're what my job is all about, and if I'm not scoring - even if the team is winning - I sulk."

This is a lot more believable than Shearer's refrain, "as long as the team wins I don't care who scores" but it does create problems. Smith, Wright's first partner at Highbury, said this week "it isn't easy for partners to develop a two-way relationship since whenever he gets the ball near goal only white posts, not team-mates, come into focus."

It is hard to argue with this approach when you consider his record. With 177 goals for Arsenal (after 117 for Crystal Palace) in all competitions, Wright is one short of Bastin's total, set in 1939, and way ahead on strike- rate. This might be expected since Bastin was a winger but, of all Arsenal's established forwards, only Ted Drake scored his goals more quicker. Drake scored 139 goals at one every 1.32 games, Wright's Arsenal goals have come in 265 games, one every 1.5 games (a strike-rate of 0.67)

Given the difficulty of scoring goals in the modern era it could be argued that Wright's achievement is the greater even if he has had more competitions to score in. Sixty years ago defences were far less organised, goalkeepers less protected and midfielders not often inclined to track back. The balls and equipment were much heavier and more cumbersome but that also applied to defenders.

On the other hand the game was more physical and medical knowledge less advanced. Dixie Dean, who scored a record 60 League goals in 1927-28, even lost a testicle from a defenders' boot and Brian Clough's career was finished by cruciate ligament injury similar to those Shearer and Paul Gascoigne have recovered from. "I accept the game is quicker now but it was bloody hard physically when I was a centre-forward," Clough said a couple of years ago. "You'd get whacked from behind and never get a free-kick."

Such is Clough's reputation as a manager it is often overlooked that he has the best post-war goal ratio of any striker. Playing for Middlesbrough and Sunderland mainly in the old Second Division he scored 267 goals in 296 games, a strike-rate of 0.9 (a goal every 1.1 games).

Unsurprisingly, he was very single-minded. At Middlesbrough his manager, Bob Dennison, told him "there has been a complaint from one of the lads that you yell `give it to me' every time he gets the ball, even when he has the chance of a shot. Why?" Clough replied "Because I'm better at it than he is."

Clough's record is just ahead of Dean who, playing mainly in the old First Division for Everton, scored 408 League and cup goals at one every 1.15 games. By way of comparison, Ian Rush's 366 goals have come at one every two games and Gary Lineker was only marginally better.

Those figures make Wright's record with Arsenal even more impressive, but while he accepts his team-mates have also played a big part they are not getting much of a mention. However, as forwards get the blame when they are not scoring they may as well accept the glory when they do. As Klinsmann, 11 and a half hours without an international goal, reflected this week: "People expect goals from me but forwards need help from others, in some games I have not had one chance."


(Premiership and Nationwide League: League goals and appearances for all clubs)

Apps Goals S/R

1 John Aldridge 595 324 .54


2 Ian Rush 539 246 .47


3 Steve Bull 432 242 .56


4 Kerry Dixon 593 231 .39

(left Doncaster this week)

5 Steve White 617 221 .36


6 Ian Wright 424 210 .49


7 Tony Adcock 560 207 .37


8 Peter Beardsley 592 200 .33


9 Tony Cottee 463 187 .40


10 Mick Harford 583 186 .32


In a league of their own

How the Premiership clubs' all-time record League scorers compare with their current leading marksmen

Appearances Goals Strike rate

Arsenal Cliff Bastin (1930-47) 350 150 0.43

Ian Wright 199 121 0.61

Aston Villa Harry Hampton (1904-15) 342 215 0.63

Dwight Yorke 202 61 0.30

Barnsley Ernest Hine 288 124 0.43

(1921-26 and 1934-38)

Neil Redfearn 257 61 0.24

Blackburn Simon Garner (1978-92) 485 168 0.35

Chris Sutton 80 29 0.36

Bolton Nat Lofthouse (1946-61) 452 255 0.56

John McGinlay 186 87 0.47

Chelsea Bobby Tambling (1958-70) 298 164 0.55

Dennis Wise 219 43 0.20

Coventry Clarrie Bourton (1931-37) 228 171 0.75

Dion Dublin 101 43 0.43

C Palace Peter Simpson (1930-36) 180 153 0.85

Bruce Dyer 107 32 0.30

Derby Co Steve Bloomer 474 293 0.62

(1892-1906 and 1910-14)

Paul Simpson 186 48 0.26

Everton Willie Ralph `Dixie' Dean 419 349 0.83


Dave Watson 370 23 0.06

Duncan Ferguson 75 23 0.31

Leeds Utd Peter Lorimer 504 168 0.33

(1965-79 and 1983-86)

Rodney Wallace 182 43 0.24

Leicester Arthur Chandler (1923-35) 393 259 0.66

Steve Walsh 311 47 0.15

Liverpool Roger Hunt (1959-69) 401 245 0.61

Robbie Fowler 140 83 0.59

Man Utd Bobby Charlton (1956-73) 604 199 0.33

Brian McClair 342 88 0.26

Newcastle Jackie Milburn (1946-57) 353 177 0.50

Robert Lee 182 39 0.21

Sheffield W Andy Wilson (1900-20) 502 199 0.40

David Hirst 288 106 0.37

Southampton Mike Channon 507 185 0.36

(1966-77 and 1979-82)

Matt Le Tissier 357 140 0.39

Tottenham Jimmy Greaves (1961-70) 321 220 0.69

Gary Mabbutt 466 27 0.06

West Ham Vic Watson (1920-35) 462 298 0.65

Julian Dicks 253 50 0.20

Wimbledon Alan Cork (1977-92) 352 145 0.41

Robbie Earle 295 77 0.26


(Career League goals and appearances)

Apps Goals S/R

Arthur Rowley 619 434 .70

(West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Leicester, Shrewsbury. 1946-1965)

how SOME OF TODAY's leading strikers compare

(Career League goals and appearances for all clubs)

Apps Goals S/R

Robbie Fowler 140 83 .59


Alan Shearer 287 160 .56


Andy Cole 197 109 .55

(Manchester United)

Les Ferdinand 236 122 .52


Stan Collymore 178 83 .47

(Aston Villa)

Teddy Sheringham 435 183 .42

(Manchester United)

Mark Bright 440 159 .36


Chris Sutton 182 64 .35


Mark Hughes 412 135 .33


Brian Deane 403 126 .31

(Sheffield United)