Golden Boot contenders Son and Kane know there is no substitute for team spirit
Remember the golden boot? There was a time, before the marketing departments helped make finishing fourth a thing, when ending as the top flight’s top scorer was arguably the greatest annual accolade handed out after the league title and FA Cup.
But just as football’s priorities have changed, with Champions League qualification one of its greatest prizes, our approach to playing the game has also altered.
Tottenham’s Heung-min Son moved into second place in the golden boot standings last Sunday and responded with little more than a shrug.
‘It’s not important because I want to play Champions League next season,’ the South Korean said after taking his top-flight tally to a career-best 19 with a brace against Leicester.
‘Scoring 19 goals, 30 goals, 25 goals, it’s not important for me because the team is more important than me. I try to do my best for the team.’
Spoken like the model modern professional. Son, who has teamed up with Harry Kane to produce the deadliest duo in Premier League history, knows football, and by extension goalscoring, is now more than ever, a collective effort.
Premier League leaders Manchester City have managed 84 goals this season, and yet their top scorer in the competition, Kevin De Bruyne, is a midfielder whose total of 11 goals is good enough only for ninth in the race for the golden boot.
Mohamed Salah leads the race with 22 but that represents barely a quarter of Liverpool’s total of 86.
Race for the Golden Boot
The top five in the Premier League top scorers’ table features three Liverpool players; Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.
The first three names in the assists table all play for Liverpool; Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.
One of the keys to success in the modern game is having multiple threats, several players who can provide the ammunition and/or deliver the killer blow.
The league will always boast great, single-minded goalscorers, like Kane or Sergio Aguero but the current trend is clear. When it comes to goalscoring it’s time to share the love around.
If Salah or Son fail to reach 25 league goals by the end of the season it will be the fourth campaign in a row fewer than 25 goals has been enough to win the Golden Boot.
In the previous 15 Premier League seasons the top scorer finished with less than 25 goals on only three occasions.
Liverpool’s attacking machine features five forwards — Salah, Mane, Jota, Roberto Firmino and Luis Diaz — able to weigh in with between ten and 15 goals a season.
City have yet to replace Aguero, their all-time record goalscorer who nevertheless contributed just seven goals to last year’s title triumph and run to the Champions League final.
Guardiola learnt to be pragmatic with Aguero’s differing approach to the game but, in many ways, the Catalan’s vision for City has only really been complete since the greatest goalscorer in the club’s history was phased out.
Chelsea won the Champions League last season with no out-and-out striker and, having spent £100million on Romelu Lukaku to rectify that last summer, have largely left the Belgian on the bench and decided Kai Havertz, a midfielder by trade, is a better bet to fulfil the responsibilities of the modern-day frontman.
Tottenham have Son and Kane, both prolific scorers but an old-fashioned two-man strikeforce playing in a very modern way with high-energy pressing, defensive responsibilities and counter-attacking threat.
Arsenal let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang walk away in January and immediately looked a far better bet to finish in the top four.
Which brings us to Cristiano Ronaldo. In many ways, the Manchester United forward is where all this role-changing and adaptation of square pegs into round holes began. Initially brought to Manchester United as an out-an-out winger with more tricks than production, he eventually became the most prolific striker in the history of the game, the archetypal modern No.9.
Now 37 and with questions about his viability in the most elite of teams, Ronaldo continues to possess levels of self-esteem which often appear lacking — or even discouraged — in the modern footballer. Cristiano probably believes the team is best served by being subservient to him, not the other way around.
Against the backdrop of a car-crash of a season at Manchester United in which doubts about his suitability for the role have been just one of many sub-plots, Ronaldo has quietly amassed 18 Premier League goals, just one less than Son and four behind Salah, despite playing fewer games than either.
His efforts will not win the club a trophy and are highly unlikely to lead to Champions League qualification but it feels safe to say the Portugal superstar is far from United’s biggest problem.
And while his own club continue to flounder and, elsewhere, the collectives continue to profit, the Premier League’s great individualist might yet walk away with its greatest individual prize.
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