Every year we see a number of foreign strikers join Premier League clubs with impressive career scoring records. This fills fans with hope that they now possess a dangerous centre forward who can regularly score 15+ goals year in, year out. This summer, two strikers with growing reputations joined Premier League clubs for big fees: Pablo Osvaldo and Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Both have been linked with huge Premier League teams in the past. Arsenal and Liverpool have been rumoured to have looked at Osvaldo before his move to Southampton, while Chelsea and Manchester United were linked with van Wolfswinkel prior to the Dutchman signing for Norwich. Fans of Southampton and Norwich celebrated the apparent coup that their clubs had managed to tie up; but, after eight games, neither forward have managed to live up to their hype.
Osvaldo, who joined Southampton for a reported £12.8m, had a scoring rate of just below a goal every other game since moving to Espanyol in the 2009-10 season. He managed to score 16 in 29 games for Roma last campaign. The Italian was joining a Southampton side who relied heavily on Rickie Lambert last season with only Jay Rodriguez offering him any real competition. It was an area that needed to be strengthened by Mauricio Pochettino. Osvaldo has played 541 minutes in seven matches for his new club. He has only scored once in the match against Crystal Palace. From his 13 shots, 6 have been on target which is a decent shooting accuracy of 46%. His chance conversion rate is disappointing though, at only 8%. The clearest indication of his struggles is that he has missed both of the clear cut chances that have come his way. Norwich bought van Wolfswinkel for £8.8m from Sporting Lisbon. During his time in Portugal, the Dutchman managed to score 28 from 55 league games, which is better than a goal every two games. Norwich struggled for goals last season and with the departure of Grant Holt to Wigan, it was expected that van Wolfswinkel would give the Canaries a potent threat up front. Since starting superbly with a debut goal against Everton, he has failed to find the net. He has played 599 minutes in seven matches for Norwich. The Dutch International has only had 6 shots with a shooting accuracy of 33%. The lack of creativity in the Norwich side might be to blame for his lack of goals, as he is only shooting once every 100 minutes. His chance conversion (17%) is better than Osvaldo’s. However, the Norwich striker has missed all three of his clear cut chances, which is poor for a player known for his clinical finishing.
These cases highlight the risk of buying strikers from abroad. Osvaldo had a great record in Italy and Spain while van Wolswinkel was successful in Holland and Portugal. Both might yet become successes in this country but sometimes clubs can’t allow new signings time to settle, Norwich are already in the bottom three and desperate for points so they may choose to drop van Wolfswinkel from their starting eleven.
The Premier League is unique and talent isn’t enough to allow a player to become a success. You also need to be mentally and physically strong to become a great player in England. These qualities are hard to find in foreigners, especially strikers. There have been so many strikers who have been a huge success abroad but failed in England: Andriy Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo and Diego Forlan to name but a few. On the other hand, there have been some huge successes in Demba Ba, Christian Benteke and Didier Drogba; but, buying attackers from abroad still carries a huge risk, especially when you add in the inflated price tags. Some of the smaller Premier League clubs have limited finances so making sure the manager is efficient in the transfer market is crucial in securing the side’s future in the top flight.
In the future, it might be wiser for Premier League clubs operating outside of the top eight to look for strikers in the lower leagues. The emergence of Rickie Lambert and Dwight Gayle shows that there is lots of talent in England outside the top flight. Last season, Charlie Austin scored 25 goals in the Championship for Burnley, but he couldn’t get a Premier League move after failing a medical at Hull City. He then joined QPR for a reported fee of £4m and has already scored 5 league goals for his new employers. Would he have done a better job for Norwich than van Wolfswinkel? He might well have done, plus it would have saved the club some money to spend elsewhere.