‘Poacher’ refers to a forward, essentially a player who is very comfortable at getting behind the defenders, finishing off through-balls inside the 18-yard box, scoring goals at will. But today as we know, most of the game is being played out in the middle of the park. Managers of top clubs in England and across Europe are overly concerned about dominating the game, holding the ball and thereby controlling the outcome of the fixture themselves. This change in style has brought back the significance of defensive midfielders – both holding play-makers (the regista) and box-to-box midfielders, to the fore but has led to the slow but soon-to-be-certain demise of a particular breed of forwards; the ‘Poachers’.
The difference between deploying a poacher and today’s centre forward is telling and can affect the result of a game, both ways. Nowadays, a centre forward is entitled to do a lot more than just putting the ball in the back of the net. This, in turn, leaves a single forward to lead the line and perform a wide range of roles all by themselves. Included in this is often not just an attacking role, but a required contribution to all parts of the game. From getting involved in things like pressing defenders and preventing build-up play of the opposition, to helping in transitions and developing their own side’s attack, there is such an important role to be done other than just finding the back of the net. With just one player leading the line, no longer can the burdens of all this be shared between a partnership.
Previously, whilst 4-4-2 was the most favoured formation across Europe, the presence of a ‘poacher’ was an absolute necessity while now it has become more of a luxury. Managers today prefer modern day strikers with an ability to hold the ball up and create chances for themselves and others in the team. Having a ‘poacher’ as a lone forward would be suicidal if the opposition presses the midfield high up which would ultimately result in the lack of service for the striker himself. That’s more like playing with ten men against eleven. This has made them outcasts to say the least.
One such example in the Premier League is the lack of trust being placed in a typical poacher that plays for Manchester United that goes by the name Javier Hernandez. Last season, Javier scored 10 goals at a rate of almost 1 goal per 95 minutes played. Yet for all his effort he was still behind Danny Welbeck in the pecking order who fared much poorer in terms of conversion rate with just 1 goal having played more than 1200 minutes. This was probably because of the fact that Sir Alex wanted his front men to hold the ball up well and distribute it better suiting the needs of playing against premier league opposition, drop back when needed to support the midfield when being overrun. Danny Welbeck certainly is the better player when it comes up to holding the ball up and running at defence. Let alone running at the defence, Danny Welbeck has always tracked back and put the pressure on the opposition whenever he is off the ball.
The numbers above (from last season) prove the superior work ethic of Danny Welbeck. His tackle success rate is superior to Javier Hernandez’s. And so are the number of tackles made. If you had noticed, one statistic that sets Welbeck apart is his number of interceptions. Danny Welbeck clearly has broken up a team’s attack more times (triple the amount) than Javier Hernandez did. Despite the fact that Welbeck was played out wide most of the time, this quite clearly tells you the way he moves off the ball.
Other key stat that sets Danny Welbeck apart, is his pass completion rate. It’s quite evident why he was started more number of times than Javier Hernandez did despite the lack of goals. Javier Hernandez and poachers like him (may sound a bit harsh) are now considered better ‘impact’ players. Players who can turn the game around coming off the bench.
But then what would you prefer – a strong and hard-working centre-forward or one whose effectiveness is limited outside the 18-yard box?
2012/13 Creativity Stats Comparison