Why is it some strikers fit in and others don”t Sportsmail investigates…
Andy Carroll cost Liverpool 35million and can”t buy a goal, while Demba Ba costs nothing and has 14. Sportsmail speaks to those in the know to find out just what it is that makes strikers click.
The player: Garry Birtles, ex-Nottingham Forest and Manchester United
For a long time at Nottingham Forest I regarded myself as a carpet fitter who played football rather than a professional footballer. Yes, there was pressure on me to do well. But I didn’t feel it so much. I knew why I was in the Forest team and, as long as I did what Brian Clough said, then he would give me a run of games to put something right.
Speaking from experience: Garry Birtles struggled at Man United
Having said that, I did notice a distinct change in my opponents following the success we had at Forest. They took more notice of me for a start. But it was nothing like the scrutiny I came under at United following my move.
It all could have been so different. In my first match at Stoke, I rounded the keeper and slotted the ball towards goal with my weaker right foot. The pitch was thick with mud and the ball stuck, before the right back came from nowhere and cleared it off the line.
In my second match, against Everton, I curled a beauty around Seamus McDonagh but it flew past the post. How it missed I’ll never know. Had those two gone in, the rest of what I’m about to tell you could have been avoided.
I picked up a bad injury – a hairline fracture of my pelvic bone. There is no solution other than rest but, of course, as soon as you come back, the pressure is on. But still nothing would go for me.
It was the time of the Iranian siege in London and the joke doing the rounds at the time was that one of the first things the hostages said on their release was: ‘Has Birtles scored yet’
Out of luck: Nothing went right for Birtles at Old Trafford
Manchester United, because of their connections with Ireland, even arranged for me to consult a Catholic priest to see if he could solve the issue. That didn’t work. I’m not Catholic for a start! I didn’t have the heart to tell them. After that, it started getting really bad.
I was commuting between Nottingham and Manchester. After one game I was driving home through Macclesfield and Ashbourne on a single-track road that is used by a lot of articulated lorries. It was a horrible night, lashing it down with rain, and I lost concentration because this barren run was getting to me. I’d been playing it over in my mind.
Anyway, the car spun across the road and into a driveway which should have been protected by one of those iron gates that farmers use. I was lucky I was driving a decent motor, a TVR or a Jaguar it was, or I could have ended up anywhere and in any state.
I sat there for five or 10 minutes and thought to myself: ‘This is really not worth worrying about’.
Prolific: Demba Ba cost Newcastle nothing
I’d like to say that my luck changed with my mind-set but it didn’t.
A few weeks later, we came back from a friendly game in Malaysia. We’d flown back to Manchester from Kuala Lumpur and I decided to drive home. I was jet-lagged and fell asleep at the wheel.
‘I crashed my car into a lamp post. As I was standing there at midnight, a cameraman went past the scene of the crime. He waited until morning and then grabbed a shot of the car.
The next day there was a front-page picture of my motor in the Sun underneath the headline: ‘Birtles hits the post – again.’
It will turn for Andy Carroll as long as he doesn’t hide. It eventually turned for me. I scored one of the best goals of my career against Swansea in the League Cup. The roof nearly came off Old Trafford.
As long as Andy Carroll keeps putting the effort in, I can tell him – from experience – his time will come.’
Out of sorts: Andy Carroll has struggled at Liverpool
The management: Mark Bowen, No 2 to Mark Hughes at Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham and Wales
I work alongside Mark Hughes and Eddie Niedzwiecki, who is hot on building contacts, doing his homework and spotting players. Like a private detective, the idea is to create a dossier on a target.
We can all see what a top player can do on the pitch. What you don’t know is how they train or what their habits are at night: nightclub or quiet dinner with girlfriend and home to bed early, bright and ready for training the next day
Before we signed Roque Santa Cruz from Bayern Munich, we knew he could play. He had come from Paraguay, so could he adapt to the Premier League Learn the language Work hard in training Compliment the team Settle in the region We worked on building our information, including talking to his Bayern team-mate Owen Hargreaves, who gave him a glowing reference. Roque was a sensation at Blackburn.
Sensation: Roque Santa Cruz
We have had some good signings. Mousa Dembele came to Fulham through a close relationship with Kia Joorabchian. He cost 5million and what is he worth now At Blackburn, Ryan Nelsen cost nothing from the MLS, Christopher Samba cost 400,000 from Hertha Berlin. Samba was brought to us by an agent, the player was having a hard time in Berlin with the fans and was also being used as a striker off the bench.
This giant of a man walked into our training ground. We played him at centre half in a reserve game, looked at each other after 20 minutes and said: ‘We’re having him!’ Now he’s worth 10m and I’m surprised Arsenal didn’t sign him in the summer. He’s top quality – in both boxes.
There is an element of luck and gamble, but you try to eradicate as much of that as possible through uncovering knowledge of the transfer target.
You are trying to satisfy the needs of the team within the budget available, relying on your eye and then determining if you can trust the information you are getting. Like I say, contacts and homework are crucial.
Keen student: Bowen relies on contacts and homework to sign players
It’s a bit of a minefield and the best in their field at spotting players and uncovering successful bargains are a valuable asset to the club who employ them.
The Chairman: Freddy Shepherd, Newcastle (1996-2006)
There is no secret formula. When you sign a striker, at any price, you need luck.
We signed Alan Shearer for a world record fee (15million) and there is no better example of a signing that worked. Alan turned out to be one of Newcastle’s biggest legends and the greatest player to wear the black and white No 9 shirt.
We broke another record signing Michael Owen from Real Madrid (16.8million) and he started well enough but broke his metatarsal at Spurs.
There was nothing we could do about it. He never really recovered as a Newcastle player. It was just bad luck.
Toon idol: Alan Shearer
Paying the big fees is no guarantee that a signing will work for your team.
Demba Ba came to Newcastle on a free transfer in the summer and he can’t stop scoring goals. But when he signed there was no real pressure on him because no one expected a great deal from him. That can help the player settle in.
Clubs are constantly inundated with dvds from agents but you can watch dvds forever, send out your scouts, coaches and manager to watch the players, but you can never be sure they will work for you until you have that player in your squad, until you can work with him daily and really see what he is like. And even then…
We signed plenty of strikers for our managers down the years at Newcastle and we had the good and we had the bad. For every Shearer, Andy Cole or Les Ferdinand, there was a Jon Dahl Tomasson, Andreas Andersson or Stephane Guivarc’h, who, as someone once pointed out to me, is possibly the only player who devalued himself winning the World Cup.
Flop: Stephane Guivarc”h (centre)
And when strikers don’t hit the target, you feel it just as much as he does. Many times I’d sit in the stands willing players to score to ease the pressure on themselves and get a run of goals.
You feel it even more when it doesn’t work because you are the one who picked him, signed him and stood by him.
And, of course, the first thing you think about is the money you’ve paid.