Eden Hazard reckons Olivier Giroud is one of the world’s best in his position despite the Frenchman’s lack of goals
Many people believe the primary role of a centre-forward is to score goals.
The likes of Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane and Mauro Icardi are all examples of the classic No9 mould.
They’re in the team to provide the final touch and usually finish a season with roughly 30 goals to their name, while you can count their assists on one hand.
But is it possible to be a worthwile centre-forward without the goals?
Eden Hazard recently said of Olivier Giroud: “He’s a target man, maybe the best in the world.”
The Belgian’s scintillating start to the season has certainly been facilitated by Giroud’s excellent hold-up play.
The Frenchman does his best work with his back to goal and regularly finds a team-mate with lay-offs in the opposition’s half.
It’s obvious why Hazard loves playing with him — when you play the ball into Giroud’s feet, there’s a good chance you’ll get it back.
Antoine Griezmann prefers Giroud as a strike partner for France for the same reason.
Giroud famously failed to register a shot on target during the World Cup.
But his team-mates recognise his contribution to Les Bleus’ triumph in Russia.
Giroud has scored five goals in 23 games since joining Chelsea in January — a modest return for a out-and-out centre-forward.
And yet most would say he has had a positive impact on the club.
If Giroud’s presence in the team brings the best out of Hazard, isn’t his selection justified?
Cristiano Ronaldo thoroughly enjoyed playing with Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.
The Frenchman is a prolific goalscorer himself but as time went on, his primary role in the team was to make life easy for his partner in crime.
Benzema scored just five goals from 32 league games last season.
He already has four to his name this campaign, with Ronaldo having switched allegiances in the summer.
Gary Lineker questioned Benzema’s lack of goals last year and was largely criticised for overlooking the 30-year-old’s overall contribution, particularly in the Champions League.
Roberto Firmino is another example of a centre-forward who should not be measured in goals alone.
The Brazilian scored 27 goals in all competitions last season — a more than respectable tally.
However, his ability to link-up with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, as well as his intense pressing, means he is arguably the most important player in Jurgen Klopp’s system.
Jordan Ayew was the only forward to make more tackles in the Premier League than Firmino last season.
Firmino averages a goal roughly every three games in his Liverpool career, but he has been considerably better than his record suggests.
Many would rank him up alongside Kane, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku among the league’s best strikers.
His goal record does not match up but he surpasses his direct rivals in many other aspects of the game.
While the concept of a selfless No9 feels like a modern trend, there are example from years gone by.
Dennis Bergkamp failed to reach double figures in the league in each of his last seven season with Arsenal.
In fact, he failed to reach five goals in four of those campaigns.
And yet Thierry Henry quite rightly ranks him alongside Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o in the best forwards he’s ever played alongside.
With front threes now common place, there is less pressure on the centre-forward to score the majority of the goals.
This is also the reason we are increasingly seeing wide forwards and wingers breeze past 20 goals in a single campaign.
Perhaps in a few more years, the likes of Lewandowski and Icardi will become extinct and it will be normal for centre-forwards to prioritise assists over goals.
The postmodern No9 is here and he’s exhausted the batteries of his beard-trimmer.