Putting the ball in the back of the net is the hardest thing to do in football. There’s a reason that the Ballon d’Or almost always goes to a forward and why it’s so much easier to coach a compact structure from average defenders than it is to squeeze more goals out of shot-shy attackers.
That makes ordering the best strikers in world football an almost impossible task - but that won’t stop us. All things considered, who gives you the best option in a forward position?
Disclaimer: This list only features centre-forwards, of those who at least play there regularly, so the likes of Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah, Kylian Mbappe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Neymar weren’t considered. They have their own list...
10. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Ten years ago, Jamie Vardy was “Player's Player of the Year” for Halifax Town, playing in the seventh tier of English football. Last season, he scored more top-flight goals than anyone else.
Vardy seems to have peaked at the age of 33. A bustling, bristling nuisance of a forward, he’s developed far more to his game than just beating a defender for pace, developing a greater positional awareness under Brendan Rodgers at Leicester City and displaying better close control than he ever had in his 20s. Three players have scored hat-tricks against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City - Vardy has two of them.
9. Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
Arguably the defining striker of the 2010s, Luis Suarez was as close to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ability as it seemed physically possible to reach. That season at Liverpool was followed by 147 goals in 191 league games for Barcelona (mental) and now he’s Diego Simeone’s new prefect at the Atletico Madrid school of dark magic.
Suarez is still lethal. Though he’s lost his explosiveness over 10 yards, his eye for goal is unimpeachable and trying to shift him off the ball is one of the hardest tasks La Liga defenders can face. Messi was gutted when his pal left Catalonia. You can see why.
8. Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
It says a lot about the ambition and scope of Wolverhampton Wanderers that a forward as good as Raul Jimenez leads the line for the club. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Wolves don’t have European football this season: their free-scoring Mexican is a gunman capable of starting for most Champions League sides.
Extremely athletic, great at carrying the ball and unstoppable in the penalty area, Jimenez is the complete striker without a noticeable flaw in his game. He’s the kind of striker that feels both fiery and icy cool at once, like peak Diego Costa. And he’s still only 29 - he might still improve in years to come…
7. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Karim Benzema was, for years, seen simply as the sidekick of a shinier star. It was thought that Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo could never coexist within the same 18-yard box; that the Frenchman wasn’t just sacrificing goals to satisfy his colleague, he just wasn’t as talented.
Real Madrid haven't had the same aura without their iconic No.7 - despite a La Liga trophy last year - but the time out of Ronaldo’s shadow has been kind to Benzema. Recast as a more complete forward, he’s top-scored in both seasons while retaining his customary link-up play to bring other Galacticos into games. One wonders how good France could have been with him in their arsenal.
6. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Between mid-March and May 16 at around 3.30pm, Erling Haaland scored every single goal in Europe’s top five leagues. OK, it was the first goal back after lockdown but if we’re being honest, Haaland’s stats don’t need caveats.
The Leeds-born Norwegian scored 44 goals in 40 appearances last season for RB Salzburg and later Borussia Dortmund, displaying prowess beyond his 20 years of age. He’s strong, deceptively pacy, highly intelligent and icy cool in front of goal. He scored worldies, headers, tap-ins, can dink a ball over a keeper with deft grace or smash it into the roof of the net.
5. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
The goals were never a problem for Sergio Aguero. At every level of the game, the Argentinian was capable of delivering in the pivotal moment - but when Pep Guardiola arrived at Man City, there were question marks over whether a box poacher was enough for a brave new world at Eastlands.
It’s testament to the footballer that Kun has become that Aguero is still one of the first names on the teamsheet for City. Formerly just a player who ran the channels, Aguero’s link-up play, off-ball movement and positional awareness have all become top-class - just like his finishing. Pep literally signed Gabriel Jesus as a more rounded option, only to bench him a much-improved Aguero. That’s just the way it goes, sometimes.
4. Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)
It’s sad that we don’t get to see Romelu Lukaku in the Premier League anymore. He’s always had a natural finishing ability and strength rare in young players - typified by the fact he’s the fast overseas player to reach 100 goals in English football.
Lukaku is a student of the game too though, highly intelligent and keen to improve as an individual. As the outlet in Antonio Conte’s clockwork Inter Milan machine, he’s been in fine form over the last year, proving himself to be one of the most reliable frontmen in Europe. He’s Belgium’s top scorer, cost clubs around £180m and he’s still only 27. He’ll only get better.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
It still seems strange to think of Cristiano Ronaldo as a striker. The bandy-legged, stepover-happy Portuguese teen with wonky teeth and a hairband was always the crosser out on the right for Manchester United - did you see this story coming?
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The Juventus star puts up pure numbers as good as anyone else in Europe. His curious ability to single-handedly decide the biggest matches in world football is still unparalleled by anyone else in the game; he still has the killer mentality that rivals try and match and even at 35, he gets into most clubs’ XI. Can he go for another five years? You bet he can.
2. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
At the age of 20, Harry Kane started on the Leicester bench with Jamie Vardy, as the Foxes lost the second leg of the Championship play-off, opting for David Nugent and Chis Wood up front. Kane, in his fourth loan away from Tottenham Hotspur, had unequivocally failed to make an impression in the East Midlands. He must have wondered where his career would head next.
Seven years later, he’s the England captain and one of the best strikers in Europe. A finishing ability that no one ever knew he had manifested under Mauricio Pochettino before Kane developed the hold-up side of his game to become of the deftest passing strikers in the game at current. He’s so complete that he’s invaluable to Tottenham and his record since his breakthrough has been astounding.
1. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Who else? The man that Thomas Muller dubbed “Lewangoalski” has just turned 32 but stepped up his game another gear in the last year to lead Bayern Munich to a treble. There was never any doubting his talent - just the ability to force his presence onto games.
Now, the Pole is front and centre of everything Die Roten do. He’s technical, physical, adept with either foot or his head and hugely intelligent when it comes to finding space or vacating it for colleagues to step into. 55 goals in 47 games last season… beat that.
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