“Bobby Zamora,” a typical argument will go, “is rubbish. He can’t score for toffee. A striker’s job is to score goals, and as Zamora is appalling at doing this, he is not doing his job properly, and should be out of the team.”
I believe that there is a key distinction between a striker and a forward, and I shall explain why this is important in the Bobby Zamora saga.
A striker, in my opinion, is somebody who has no other role in the team other than to score goals. If you have a good one, and an excellent side around him that creates a plethora of chances every game, he can be invaluable. A prime example of this is Michael Owen – an excellent finisher, but a player who offers absolutely nothing else to his side. Even Erik Nevland could fall into this category.
On the other hand, I view a forward rather differently. Unlike the striker, his role isn’t to score goals. That’s not to say that he is told not to score (although some scallywags might argue that Zamora could well have been, given his reluctance to put the ball in the back of the net), merely that scoring is not his primary role in the team. A forward gives defenders a torrid time, bullying them and dragging them out of position whilst winning flick-ons to his team-mates. A forward provides an outlet to his team when they are on the defensive, playing the ball up to him and hoping that he will retain possession for them (or winning free-kicks, corners, throw-ins etc.), whilst his team-mates get into more advanced positions. A forward plays much of the game with his back to goal, linking up play with his midfield and striking partner.
A forward should be viewed as a player who is at his most effective in the final third of the pitch – not as a player whose sole job is to score. Bobby Zamora is definitely a forward, not a striker. The equally-maligned Emile Heskey also falls into this category, and these two players are both rated very highly, not only by their own managers and players, but also by the opposition managers. Opposition managers certainly praised the jobs Zamora (and indeed AJ) played last season many, many times. It is a selfless job being a forward, one which brings not only a lack of praise from the fans, but often disdain from them.
Obviously, there are examples of forwards who are marvelous finishers – forwards and strikers are categories that are certainly not mutually exclusive. Players such as Drogba, Adebayor, and Ibrahimovic, for example, but these are all fantastic players who are certainly out of our reach. The last one we really had was Louis Saha, who left us for Manchester United. McBride wasn’t bad either. If he can get more consistency, Carlton Cole has the attributes to also become a goal-scoring forward.
Obviously, everybody would like it if Zamora would (or rather, could) score more often. There is little doubt however that Fulham often play a lot better when he is in the side. Against Arsenal, he showed exactly what he, and any good forward, offers to the side with one moment in particular in the first half. A ball was played upfield to him. Zamora, running towards the corner of the pitch to get the ball, dragged Vermaelen out away from the centre with him, barged into the Belgian and used his strength to retain the ball. He held onto the ball until players got into advanced positions, before he laid the ball off for Zoltan Gera to cross. As Zamora was occupying the largest of Arsenal’s defenders by the corner flag, the diminutive Johnson was able to win the header, and only an excellent stop from Mannone prevented a goal. Zamora, isolated in the corner of the pitch, a) held onto the ball until options came, and b) used his physical threat to draw the largest of the opposition centre-backs away from the danger area. He played well throughout the game, and only his finishing and an excellent save denied him a well-deserved goal.
I will readily admit that Bobby Zamora is a rubbish striker. But he is an excellent forward.