A good old fashioned number 9.
I swear that is a saying, or was a saying, that some pundits would occasionally wheel out from time to time, right? Well, with no Palace this weekend, and the fact that I am fed up of the pure negativity that has surrounded the club in recent weeks, my mind got to thinking about writing something completely different. Now, for me, Jordan Ayew has been by far, our best outfield player this season. The key there, is ‘outfield’, because I think Vicente Guaita already has one gloved hand on the Player of the Year award.
The funny thing is, Jordan hasn’t necessarily stood out for his goals this season. Yes, he has scored some key goals, such as at Old Trafford, plus home and away to West Ham. His tally though, is just six for the season, which as a striker, just isn’t anywhere near the level we need it to be. The crazy, and perhaps worrying thing, is that his tally of six is enough to make him our top scorer for the season. The lack of goal volume aside though, Jordan has been excellent in my opinion. His work rate is fantastic, he gives absolutely everything and is a bright spark when so many others are failing to ignite. His vision, his desire to track back and break up play, his willingness to push forward and take a man on, I really believe that he has been an absolute bargain at £2.5m, and could thrive even more if he had someone up top with him. However, it still comes back to the lack of goals. Thinking about Jordan, made me think that I have said a few times in recent years, the line of ‘he doesn’t score much, but works his socks off’. Both Frazier Campbell and Cameron Jerome have been tagged with that sentence.
The thing is though, I am a squad number traditionalist. Whenever I play Football Manager, I have to assign certain numbers to certain positions, and it bugs me to see them out of place in real life. For me, No.2 is right back, No.3 left back, No. 4 holding midfielder, No.5 and No. 6 are centre backs, No.7 is right wing, No.8 is the creative central midfielder, No. 9 and No.10 are forwards and No.11 is left wing! My OCD will not allow otherwise. I also see the number 9 role, belonging to the lead striker, such as Shearer at Newcastle, Cole at United. The thing is, when you look at our best scorers in recent times, they have not worn the Number Nine shirt. Benteke when he scored 17, wore number 17. Glenn Murray also wore this number, when he scored 31 goals in our promotion season. Then, of course, there is AJ, who wore number 8, while Clinton Morrison wore number 10. So, this got me thinking, in recent times, who has been our best number nine? It seems to be a shirt that doesn’t live up to the(my) expectation for us these days, so when did it? Now, you could go back many years for this, and I encourage you all to do so. But to avoid an article of ridiculous length, I have looked back over the last twenty years. While doing so, I rediscovered some names that I had totally forgotten about, and found that in reality, it hasn’t been the most blessed position! So, let me start from the year 2000.
1995-97: 93 apps, 31 goals
2000-2008: 237 apps, 64 goals
These days, Dougie is a very divisive figure, what with his questionable role as Director of Football, and the fact that he walked out on us for the money lure of Bolton when he was manager. However, there was a time when we were all walking in a Freedman wonderland. There is no doubt, that as a player, Dougie across two spells, was fantastic for us. His partnership with Clinton was a fantastic duo to watch, that devastated defences and made both of them highly wanted players. I remember that when asked the question of, if you had to sell one, which would it be, the answer I often heard was to sell Clinton and keep Dougie. Clinton was a fox in the box, but Dougie was always the thinking man. He was the creative spark, the man that could generate a chance out of nothing. He scored some key goals too. In his first spell, when we played Wolves in the Championship Play-Offs semi finals, Dougie went into the first leg as a sub, knowing he would be suspended for the second leg and the final if we made it. He came on to score two vital goals in a 3-1 win, that would be key to us making the final, in which David Hopkin would star. In his second spell, I remember him bagging a hat trick at Burnley for a 3-2 win despite being down to ten men. He also scored on the last day of the Premier League season under Dowie, at the Valley. He came on at 1-0 down and changed the game, and nearly saw us to survival. The biggest goal I remember though, came at Edgeley Park. Last game of the season, with everyone bar Huddersfield around us winning, we had to beat Stockport to survive. I was there in the terrace, watching an absolutely horrendous game and performance. We looked dead and buried. Then, in the 85th minute, Hopkin handballed out of sight of the official and punted the ball long. Dougie got it, weaved through their defence and slotted in the bottom corner to keep us up. For all his recent flaws, Dougie was a great player for us, and carried the number 9 shirt incredibly well.
2008-2010: 61 apps, 10 goals
There are two ways to look at Alan Lee. The first, is that he was not a great striker for us. He was slow, not much guile, and only managed 10 goals in 61 games. I remember plenty of times that fans would complain about him, as a big lump who had no real goal return. However, in his second season with us, when we dropped into Administration, Alan became a bit of a cult hero, which is the second way to look at him. Everyone in that team that dragged us to survival in the final few months, will always be remembered fondly by those of us that were a part of it. It felt like he always seemed to have his head bandaged too, like a symbol of the war we were embroiled in. I used to joke, that he once played well while bandaged, so it became something he always had to do. His final appearance for us was at the famous Hillsborough game, where his bandaged head nodded us 1-0 ahead, in a game that we would draw 2-2 to survive. He in no way, managed to follow In Dougie’s footsteps, but still earned himself cult status. He only wore No.9 in the 08/09 season, and switched to No.19 for the 09/10 season.
2009-2010: Apps 16, goals 2
Stern John’s time in the red and blue was not very memorable. When he signed, I thought he would bring goals with him, but he didn’t. He failed to deliver, albeit in a brief spell. The only thing I remember about him for us, was at Hillsborough. Deep into injury time, with the game level at 2-2, Darren Ambrose broke free, along with John, and they only had the keeper to beat. Ambrose did all the work, and then laid the ball off to John to slot home. It would have made the game 3-2, and secured survival. John slotted it past the keeper, onto the post and back out. Had he squared it back to Ambrose, it would have been nestling in the back of the net. Instead he fluffed his lines, and we had to wait, heart in mouths, for the final whistle to go during a late Sheffield Wednesday attack.
2010-2011: 30 apps, 9 goals
James Vaughn was one of those many ‘what if’ loan players we have had over the years. He signed initially on a 3 month loan deal, and impressed in his performances, wearing number 20. He returned to Everton after the three months, but re-joined in January for the rest of the season, and picked up the No.9 shirt that Alan Lee had vacated. When Vaughn was on it, he was a very good player. Strong, explosive and a good finisher. His biggest problem was injuries, something which blighted his entire career. It felt as though, every time he got going, he then got injured. Even so, I was desperate for us to sign him permanently, and felt he could have been a great No.9 for us long term, but it wasn’t to be.
2011-2012: 20 apps, 2 goals
Iversen had enjoyed a successful spell at Spurs earlier in his career, twice finishing top scorer. Injuries became an issue, yet he joined Rosenborg and found his scoring touch again. When we signed him, it looked like a real coup, and I had high hopes for him. When he scored 58 minutes into his debut, all looked well. Injuries though limited him to just 20 appearances, and only one more goal, before we then released him. Again, not a very memorable player in the No.9 shirt, and now a trend is forming, in the term of scoring failures.
2012: 1 app, 0 goals
When it comes to my summary, and deciding the best No.9, it is not going to be Goodwillie. He had been able to score goals in his native Scotland, but found it tougher south of the border at Blackburn. Signing for us on loan was a chance to rejuvenate his career, but it didn’t happen. Just one solitary appearance for him, and many questions about why we bothered signing him. He would be gone by Christmas, making way for a much better player. Most won’t even remember that he was here!
2013-2014: 18 apps, 6 goals
With Goodwillie gone, the torch passed to ‘Super’ Kevin Phillips to try and revive the fortunes of our No.9. When he signed, there was actually a feeling of disappointment among our fans. We were pushing for automatic promotion, and wanted a couple of big additions to get the job done. They didn’t happen, and instead we got Phillips, a man who had been a goal machine for years, but was now in the twilight of his career. Little did we know, the role he would play. Kevin was a natural born goal scorer, and just a different class when on the pitch. His hat trick against Hull dragged us to three points we would have otherwise dropped. He only managed two other league goals, but he saved his best, and most important until last. I will never, ever forget Kevin, for THAT moment at Wembley. When Wilf won the penalty in the dying minutes of the Play Off Final extra time, and with Murray out injured, there was no one better to step up in that huge moment, than the cool headed Phillips. The pressure of the venue, the occasion, the time and even the fact he was playing a former club, could have all got the better of him. Instead, he stepped up and hit the most beautiful penalty I have ever seen, right into the top left corner. His strike secured our promotion, and while it was his last goal for us, what a great one to finish on. I still get goosebumps every time I see it now. While he may not have been the goal machine for us, that he was elsewhere, he was most definitely the best player to wear the No.9 since Dougie, and if you go by their whole career, possibly one of the best to wear it in my lifetime.
2015: 10 apps, 1 goal
With Phillips’ departure, Sanogo joined and took over the No.9 as Pardew’s first signing, on loan from Arsenal. A young player from a big club, it was easy to expect something decent from him. His devastating performance with Chamakh at Southampton in the FA cup, in which he scored, only added to expectations. Sadly, this Yaya was not of the Toure variety, and that was about as good as it got. Instead of an exciting young player, we got yet another failure.
2014-2017: 43 apps, 5 goals
Ah, Frazier Campbell. He had to wait for the departures of both Kevin Phillips and Yaya Sanogo, to get the No.9, but he was the first long term(ish) player to wear it since Dougie. I thought he had a decent season at relegated Cardiff the season before we signed him, so when he came in, he seemed like a decent acquisition. You certainly couldn’t fault his desire and work ethic either. You could say a few things about Frazier, but you could never say that he didn’t bother. He always worked hard, the reality is that he just wasn’t good enough. For all his effort, he was as blunt as a butter knife in front of goal. He is just one example of a problem that has blighted our entire seven year Premier League spell, misfiring strikers.
2018-?: 16 apps, 1 goal
When Frazier departed, the No.9 shirt sat vacant for a few months, until Alex joined from FC Midtjylland for around £9million. He came with a big price tag, one that supposedly Danish football claimed was ridiculously too expensive. The problem, was he had no experience at this level. His first few appearances though, he showed effort and enthusiasm, and was a bit of a breath of fresh air. He scored against Chelsea, only to have it wrongly disallowed, and that goal could have changed everything. Instead, he then seemed to go backwards as a player. He has divided opinion for sure. There are some, who say that he wasn’t given a chance, and is a decent player. There are others, who think he is useless. The fact he only managed 1 goal, away to a youthful championship Swansea team in the cup, did not help his cause. For me, I felt he struggled with the basics of football at times, such as where to stand, decisions to make etc. He had a great chance to snatch an equaliser at home to Spurs last season and get his career going, and he blew it, and seemingly cemented his place on our exit list. He scored four goals on loan to Gent in the second half of last season, and is now currently scoring goals galore for Trabzonspor in Turkey, where he has been dubbed the ‘King of the North’. He has possibly scored more goals than our entire team this season. Still though, fans are torn, with some saying we need him back, and others saying he has found his level in Turkey, a league not very highly rated. The jury remains out for sure, but while he wore our No.9, it was not a successful spell.
2018-?: 45 apps, 7 goals
The Ghanaian Prince. His loan last season was not exactly a shining beacon. Most of us felt he wasn’t good enough, and did not want him back. This season though, he has proved us wrong, and is now one my first names on the team sheet. If he could add more goals to his game, he could become a great No.9 for us. There is still time of course, and if he could hit double figures this season, then it would be a decent return, and some hope going forward.
For me, there are only three players who have stood out in the twenty years. Jordan’s performances this season, make him one of them. The half season cameo by Kevin Phillips, with such a key goal at the end, makes him another. There is only one stand out candidate though, and while these days he is not exactly in our good books, in his playing days, there truly was only one Dougie Freedman!