sport

Number nines 'a dying breed'

The World Cup has shown that traditional number nine centre-forwards are "a dying breed" in the international game, according to former Republic of Ireland and Chelsea star Tony Cascarino.

The tournament's goalscoring charts are dominated by players like Colombia's James Rodriguez, Germany's Thomas Muller and Argentina's Lionel Messi, all of whom are very different players to archetypal number nines like former England great Alan Shearer - or Cascarino himself.

"As football evolves I'm seeing less and less big number nine forwards," Cascarino, who played at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, told Sky Sports News' World Cup Verdict.

"With the way football's gone, strikers are protected more than ever and the more tricky and technically gifted they are, the more difference they can make.

"Big number nines - and I was one myself - can't really do that. We rely on service and I don't see that many of them. Even a player like Karim Benzema isn't really a nine: he gets played out wide at times.

"So is it the end? No, I'm always hopeful that someone will come through and show that there's life in it but at the moment we're a dying breed."

Cascarino said a player like West Ham's Andy Carroll - if fully fit - could still provide a return to the traditional number nine role for club and country, but he admitted he was worried by the lack of young players coming through who could act as a target man and goalscorer.

"Football is normally cyclical but we're just not finding many of them at the moment," he said.

"There's Lukaku with Belgium and Didier Drogba at the end of his career, but there's very few out there and I can't see too many youngsters coming through even at club level.

"There's so many more demands on you as a player now. You have to be so much more athletic and technically gifted and there are so many more flat crosses coming into the box.

"Maybe if Andy Carroll had a big season next year and gets back to full fitness he could lead the line. We didn't see him or anyone like him really at the World Cup and he'd be the one I'd look at to see how he does with a big pre-season behind him."

Nevertheless, Cascarino said that the player who had impressed him most in Brazil was Rodriguez, whose six goals illuminated the tournament and took his side to the quarter-finals, where they lost to hosts Brazil.

"He could be a superstar in any league," said Cascarino, who also picked out Belgium's Divock Origi and Chile's Alexis Sanchez as players who had caught his eye.

"Even in the Brazil game, his ability to go past people was amazing and he bounced back up every time he was knocked down: his character and determination were brilliant."

And Cascarino also added his voice to those hailing the Netherlands' Louis van Gaal as the best coach of the tournament.

"I think the Netherlands are the poorest of the four teams left in it and I think he's done an incredible job," he said.

"If you look at the decision with Tim Krul coming on for the penalties, it's an idiot/genius decision: he came up with something that we've not really seen before and it got them over the line.

"He had the utmost confidence in himself to make a decision and it ended up getting them to the semi-finals of the World Cup."