Soccerlens’ Top Five Strikers Of The Last 20 Years

As the footballing sphere bids farewell to one of it’s greatest ever patrons, legendary Brazilian forward Ronaldo, we good folk at Soccerlens thought it high time to compile a concise list of our top five ‘strikers in world football’ – with the only stipulation being that any nominee must have played ‘up top’ and have had been in their prime at some point during the last two decades.

Plus, I’m talking real, bona fide strikers here. None of your new-fangled free-radical trequartistas are available for inclusion, capiche?

So Messi? C-Ron? Gary Taylor-Fletcher? Jog on lads.

Believe me. It wasn’t a particularly easy task to whittle down the long-list (hence the myriad of ‘honourable mentions at the foot of the page!), but eventually – after several long hours spent watching endless reels of grainy, awful Euro House-laden compilation videos – we managed to arrive at our choice quintet.

In reverse order…

5. Filippo Inzaghi, 37, Italy (Career; 1991-present):

If anyone embodies just what an ‘out-and-out’ striker should encompass, it’s AC Milan’s resident poacher incarnate – a man so enamoured with the tenuous art of the four-yard tap-in that he screams himself hoarse after notching every single one, and it just so happens that there have been quite a few down the years.

Despite possessing fairly limited all-round ability, Super Pippo is an arch-scavenger, well-versed in slipping fleet-footed past his foes and seemingly blessed with almost unparalleled levels of serendipity when it comes to simply ‘turning up in the right place at the right time’.

Aside from being a World Cup winner and a double Champions League winner, Inzaghi is currently the most prolific goal-scorer (tied on 70 goals with Raul, who may just feature a little lower down the list) in European club competition and the third top goal-scorer in Milan’s history behind Gunnar Nordahl and Andriy Shevchenko – though he has played significantly fewer games for the Rossoneri than either of the two players above him.

He’s also netted a record ten Serie A hat-tricks, a record three Champions League hat-tricks and…phew!… is the oldest player to have scored in the Champions League at the grand old age of 37 years and 85 days.

Oh, and he’s also a 5th class knight of the Italian Republic.

Not bad for a spindly lad that was apparently ‘born offside’.

4. Romario, 45, Brazil (1985-2009):

The man that Johan Cruyff dubbed ‘the genius of the goal area’ scored a self-proclaimed, and often disputed, tally of 1000+ goals during his career, and many of the game’s most illustrious names have followed Cruyff in freely tooting the Brazilian strikers horn, in fact fellow Barcelona alumni Diego Maradona once went on record as saying Romario should be the ‘first pick in any dream team’.

There were no overly-fancy tricks, no endless parade of superfluous step-overs, just a razor-edged striker’s instinct and an unswerving ability to finish from all angles.

Yes, he could be a stubborn, egotistical little so-and-so when it suited him (e.g, when forced to suffer the ignominy of having to turn up to training), but on his day (e.g, at the apex of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning side) he was untouchable.

3. Raul Gonzalez, 33, Spain (1994-present):

If Inzaghi embodies the breed, perhaps Raul represents the purest ‘out-and-out’ striker that football has ever seen.

The Spaniard currently holds the record for all-time Real Madrid appearances and it just so happens that in those 741 games, he’s found the back of the net on no fewer than 323 occasions – also a Real Madrid record –  and it’s perhaps also worth mentioning that he’s Spain’s all-time top-scorer (44 goals in 102 caps) as well.

A clinical, gifted and still criminally underrated forward, Raul is surely one of the greatest strikers never to have been honoured with the FIFA Player of the Year award and sadly, with his career now winding down in Germany with Schalke, only a minor miracle will see that oversight addressed.

2. Thierry Henry, 33, France (1994-present):

It took a while to get there, but when Thierry Henry reached his peak for Arsenal at the turn of the millennium, my goodness were all of his previous false-starts forgotten in a jiffy.

In his pomp, Henry played with an aloof swagger that only the truly gifted can pull off convincingly without looking like a bit of an Emmanuel Adebayor. Shots were clipped, curled and placed – never hammered blindly – touches were loving, delicate and precise, his effortless skill flowed freely and under no circumstances did he ever get his crisp white shorts muddy.

Not only was he responsible for a fairly high percentage of the greatest goals the Premier League has ever seen, being the sporting chap that he is (unless you ask the Irish, of course!), Henry also found time to ridiculously fluff the odd tacked-on sitter – y’know, just to remind us all that he was human after all.

1. Ronaldo, 34, Brazil (1993-2011):

Since 1993, Ronaldo’s scoring record reads something akin to 44 goals in 44 games for Cruzeiro, 54 goals in 57 for PSV, 47 goals in 49 for Barcelona, 59 goals in 99 for Inter, 104 goals in 187 for Real Madrid, 9 goals in 20 for AC Milan, 35 goals in 69 for Corinthians, 62 goals in 97 for Brazil so, bearing in mind that his knees began to give way somewhere around 1999 (his second season at Inter), it’s little wonder that he earned himself the nickname ‘O Fenomeno’ during the course of his glittering, goal-studded career.

Now, admittedly my Portuguese isn’t as good as it should be, but I’m pretty sure that constantly being referred to as a fenomeno is a fairly positive thing.

The original (and the best by a country mile) Ronaldo was one of the very few players I truly idolised as a young sapling, and the accompanying stories of transsexual discretion and bloated physical decline should never serve to shroud the fact that Senhor Nazario de Lima was truly one of the game’s unimpeachable greats.

A modern-day legend, the 34-year-old striker hung up his old R9’s for the last time on Monday, staving off the tears as he announced to the world that he  had finally been forced to accept he had ‘lost his fight with his body’.

So long Ronaldo, muito obrigado for everything old bean…

Honourable mentions: Gabriel Batistuta, Jurgen Klinsmann, Alan Shearer, Hernan Crespo, Samuel Eto’o, Dennis Bergkamp, Henrik Larsson, Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andriy Shevchenko, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero.

Spotted a glaring omission? Feel free to leave your suggestions (or your very own top 5) in the comments box below…

More from the Soccerlens Archives:

3 Up Front’s Top 5 Strikers Of Last 20 Years
Football Legends: The Forwards.

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