Today is the final player-based installment of our HITC Sevens mini-series taking a look at the finest footballers in each position over the last ten years.
For those of you who are new to the series and/or to the channel itself, I have already looked at the seven best goalkeepers, right-backs, centre-backs, and so on and so forth all the way up to the most recent video on the seven best left wingers. If you haven’t watched the earlier videos and would like to, there is a playlist on the HITC Sevens channel just for this series since I always recommend starting with the goalkeepers seven as I lay out my criteria a little more explicitly in the introduction there.
I would suggest this is the second most competitive seven of the series, trailing only the central midfield one which was really three positions rolled into one, so I shouldn’t really need to point out that some really exceptional strikers do miss out. Every generation has outstanding centre-forwards, and the last ten years are no exception. As I always say, a brilliant centre-forward in 2010 like Didier Drogba or an exceptional one in 2019 like Kylian Mbappe won’t feature, because this series is based around ability and performances over the entire decade, rather than peak level of performance at a single point during the last ten years.
I should also point out that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have already featured in this series, before any incredulous viewers who are new to the series take furiously to the comments to complain about their omission. Lastly, my boss wants me to tell you all to follow the Bhoys vs Blue Noses YouTube page which is all about Celtic and Rangers and has nothing to do with me but is part of the HITC family, so I’ll leave a link to that channel in the description for any Celtic or Rangers fans who might be watching.
Here are my views on the 7 greatest centre-forwards of the decade:
7. Antoine Griezmann
Seventh and first place were the two most difficult spots in this seven to fill, and many great strikers miss out in order to make way for Antoine Griezmann. The likes of Harry Kane, Gonzalo Higuain, Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have spent varying periods of the last ten years ranking among the finest marksmen on Earth. I have rewarded consistency and achievements across the decade throughout this series though, and Griezmann’s accomplishments during the 2010’s are pretty impressive.
Just 18 years old when the decade began, Griezmann was already a regular for Real Sociedad at that time. He helped the club to promotion in the 2009-10 season, and in 2013-14 he hit 20 goals as a top flight footballer. That form brought about a first cap for France and a transfer to Atletico Madrid, and Griezmann just kept on improving. Elegant, athletic and composed in front of goal, he scored 133 goals in 257 games in the Spanish capital before a huge move to Barcelona in the summer just gone. Griezmann has also scored 30 goals from 78 caps for France, starring at both Euro 2016 and France’s victorious 2018 World Cup campaign. Griezmann twice made the top three of Ballon d’Or voting in the 2010’s, in 2016 and 2018, while no other player in this seven has even done so once.
6. Edinson Cavani
The relentlessness of Edinson Cavani’s goal scoring over the last ten years means he simply cannot be overlooked when it comes to this seven. Only five players have scored more goals than Cavani this decade, and given that two of them are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, only three players in this seven have actually outscored him over the last ten years. There will be those who counter that with the fact that Ligue 1 is arguably an easier league to score goals in than La Liga or the Premier League, which may be the case, but then again that might be why he’s only sixth.
I have previously admitted that the first few times I saw Cavani playing for Napoli I thought he seemed a little over-hyped and raw, but I was happy to quickly admit that I had failed to fully recognise his talents. The Uruguayan goal getter was just 22 when the decade began, and he was starring for Palermo at the time. In the summer of 2010 he joined Napoli, firstly on-loan and then on a permanent, where he scored an incredible 104 goals in 138 games.
PSG came calling in 2013, and Cavani has continued to score at a remarkable rate in the French capital. The long-haired assassin is powerful, brave and incredibly hard working, and he reaps the rewards of his undying attitude to get at the opposition. Both aerially and with his right foot, Cavani is ruthless in front of goal, and he has scored 196 goals in 289 games for PSG and 50 goals from 116 caps for Uruguay. That puts him top of PSG’s all time scoring charts and second in Uruguay’s, and the 6” South American deservedly takes sixth place in this seven.
5. Karim Benzema
I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be the most controversial inclusion in this seven down in the comments section, but it really ought not to be. If it weren’t for Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema would have far fewer winners medals but far more goals and a lot more respect. The Frenchman facilitated Ronaldo’s brilliance for nine seasons at the Bernabeu, conducting himself selflessly as a centre-forward. Last season, which was Benzema’s first in Ronaldo’s absence, he scored 30 goals, his highest tally since 2011-12, and he may well better that this season. A teenage sensation at Lyon, Benzema is only actually 31, even though he seems to have been around forever.
He has spent the entirety of the 2010’s contracted to Real Madrid, where he has scored 238 goals in 486 games. Combine that with superb athleticism, excellent technique and a sharp eye for a pass, and it’s little wonder Benzema has been so brilliant for such a long period of time. He is Real Madrid’s sixth highest scorer of all time and the fourth highest scorer in the history of the European Cup and the Champions League, both of which are tremendous and perennially unrecognised achievements. Benzema’s international career has been blighted by his fallout with Didier Deschamps, but his club achievements alone are enough to earn him fifth place.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
I think the calibre of this seven is really there to be marveled at, and there will be those who – as always – are outraged that Zlatan Ibrahimovic doesn’t top this seven. The adoration for Ibrahimovic is easy to understand, and the Swede certainly likes to encourage it with his brash and sometimes bizarre persona in front of the press. At the age of 38, Ibrahimovic was already 28 when the decade began, making him by far the oldest player in this seven.
Typically, one would expect Ibrahimovic’s finest form to have come in the 2000’s, but one could claim that Ibrahimovic has actually been more impressive in the 2010’s. He began the decade in a revolutionary Barcelona side where he played well but was dumped so Pep Guardiola could allow Lionel Messi to play through the middle. Moves to AC Milan, PSG, Manchester United and LA Galaxy followed, with Ibrahimovic defying time and occasionally gravity with every move.
He scored 56 goals in 85 games for AC Milan, 156 goals in 180 games for PSG, 29 goals from 53 appearances for Manchester United and 53 goals in just 58 games for LA Galaxy. Ibrahimovic also scored arguably the single most remarkable goal of the decade for Sweden in a friendly against England, and his international form in the first half of the decade was as impressive as anything he has produced at club level. Ibrahimovic hasn’t really competed at the highest level since the summer of 2017, which counts against him, but he is a remarkable athlete and a supremely gifted footballer who more than merits a place in fourth.
3. Sergio Aguero
It will be interesting to see how the history books look back on Sergio Aguero, since in terms of in England and with regards to the Premier League, he must go down as an all time great, but Man City’s lack of success in the Champions League and Argentina’s struggles at major tournaments may taint his worldwide legacy. As a centre-forward, Aguero is one of the most impressive during my lifetime. It was obvious during his time with Atletico Madrid that Aguero was a special talent, and his Man City debut against Swansea City was a sign of what was to come in the Premier League. Aguero was just 21 on New Years Day 2010, and he struck 27 goals in his final season in Spain.
He joined Man City in 2011, and his goal scoring since then has just been utterly absurd. A tally of 244 goals in 353 games is remarkable enough, but when one looks at Aguero’s minutes per goal record it really starts to drum home how clinical the Argentine has been. During the Premier League era, no player has scored more goals per 90 minutes played, and Aguero has 13 goals in 15 games so far this season as well. In addition to his goal scoring, Aguero’s all-round play has come on leaps and bounds particularly under Pep Guardiola. He’s sharp, strong, really explosive and more than capable of creating goals for other people. When one looks at Aguero’s ability and consistency over the last ten years, twinned with the fact he has become Man City’s all time leading goal scorer and Argentina’s third highest, it’s clear that a spot in our top three is more than deserved.
2. Luis Suarez
The real dilemma in this seven, other than deciding who to leave out and who to put in seventh, was deciding my top spot. Now that I have named my runner-up, I suspect most of you can guess who the winner is, but please do stick around to hear my justification there. In terms of Luis Suarez, there have been few players who can compete with him in terms of talent, achievement and indeed sheer eventfulness over the last ten years.
Suarez began the decade with Ajax, where he scored 49 goals in 47 games in the 2009-10 campaign. Six months into the following season he joined Liverpool on January transfer deadline day along with Andy Carroll, and with hindsight it would probably be fair to say he was a better signing than the big Geordie. It took Suarez a little bit of time to really get going at Liverpool, but once he was in full flow he looked totally unstoppable. In both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 campaigns, he was either the best or close to being the best player in the Premier League, and he almost inspired the Reds to a Premier League title.
In the summer of 2014, Suarez joined Barcelona and took a chunk out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, but the move to Catalonia finally seemed to settle his appetite. Having bagged 82 goals in 133 games at Anfield, Suarez was even more prolific at the Camp Nou. A pretty widely disliked footballer, Suarez is a really feisty, tireless competitor who also happens to be supremely talented. During the 2015-16 season, Suarez scored 59 goals in 53 games, ending Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly over the Golden Boot, and that is no small accomplishment. In total, he has scored 189 goals in 266 games for Barca, and he came within inches of topping this seven.
1. Robert Lewandowski
Choosing between Luis Suarez and Robert Lewandowski as the starting centre-forward in my decade XI was never likely to be easy, but it’s Lewandowski who will get the nod. I think at his absolute peak in 2015-16, Suarez was better than Lewandowski even this season, but across the entire decade I’m just leaning towards Lewandowski. Put it this way, they are both ridiculously talented and prolific strikers who have had exceptional longevity at the highest level, but Lewandowski is less likely to bite, spit at or racially abuse someone, so you could say he’s the safer bet for our XI next week.
Lewandowski joined Borussia Dortmund from Lech Poznan in 2010, and he went on to score 103 goals in 187 games at the Westfalenstadion. He subsequently joined Bayern Munich on a free transfer, where he has scored 220 goals in 265 games, including 29 in 23 this season, and he is Poland’s all time leading scorer with 61 goals from 112 caps. Lewandowski is big, mobile, elegant on the ball and utterly devastating in front of goal. He has truly become one of the most assured finishers within the modern game, and in almost any other era, he would have won the Ballon d’Or. He’ll be the number nine in my best XI of the 2010’s.