Striking gold: Why every team needs a 'Project Nine'
Examining 'project nines' – and why the big clubs should invest in them early.
The number nine is back in a big way. They can be worth €10 million one week and €50 million the next. Today, no other role in football can boast similar potential for value growth.
The market is so inflated that one wrong move could spell a financial disaster from which many clubs would take years to recover.
The answer, writes Stephen Ganavas, is the ‘Project Nine’.
The number nine is back.
If you need proof, one example is enough: the man who brought the false nine into fashion in the 2010s and sets tactical trends for the continent — Pep Guardiola — is now boasting Erling Haaland at the spearhead of his attack.
But the nine’s resurgence is far more general than one isolated example. FIFA’s World Cup technical report demonstrates their widespread return: in 2022, strikers received the ball more centrally, received the ball closer to goal, took shots closer to goal, scored more from crosses, completed fewer key passes, created fewer assists, and pressed less than in the 2018 World Cup.
And this is reflected in the market values of nines around Europe. Dušan Vlahović, Erling Haaland, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Victor Osimhen, Darwin Núñez, Richarlison, Rasmus Højlund, Alexander Isak, Gonçalo Ramos, Randal Kolo Muani… the touted numbers speak for themselves.
Some of these players may stretch the idea of a ‘traditional number nine’, but the race to secure the best of them is as hot as it's been for 15 years. The bids are astronomical, the wages are absurd, the value is often sketchy (hello, Lukaku), and the level of investment in this position can cause catastrophic underinvestment in others (hello, Juventus).
Such issues present an exciting solution: the ‘project’ nine. On the surface, there’s little downside to elite clubs buying young, unproven forwards and turning them into superstars.
So why aren’t clubs being more proactive about this? What is holding them back from recruiting and developing young strikers themselves? What are their limitations in this space? And what profiles should clubs be looking for in a ‘project’ number nine for themselves?
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