Goals scored per game does a good enough job at rating a goals scorers ability,however it does tend to favour players who were on teams which scored lots of goals.Therefore I usually express a goalscorer's core statistic in terms of his goals per game rate as a proportion of his team's goals per game rate as this gives a little more context around the kind of goal scoring environment the players was performing in.It also helps to highlight how integral a player was to the team's overall goal grabbing ability.For example if player scores on average a goal a game for a team which scores on average 2 goals a game,his scoring rate is half that of his team.If his team scores 3 goals a game,his rate is only a third.
We'll start with the archetypal English goalscorer,Alan Shearer.Shearer started his career with top flight side Southampton in the old First Division,before moving to cash rich Blackburn at the inauguration of the Premier league and finally seeing out his time at Newcastle.
Shearer's career peaked between the ages of 22 and 26,encompassing his last three seasons at Blackburn and his first season at Newcastle,when his goalscoring rate was almost half that of his team as a whole.His scoring rate then declines compared to that of his team in fairly typical fashion for elite goalscorers as a group.There is a noticeable dip in 1997/98 when an ankle ligament injury restricted his appearances to less than half a season.Even allowing for his limited game time,his goalscoring rate during that season was barely one tenth of the team's indicating that he was ineffective even when he did manage to play.He retired from international football in 2000,but suffered another,less dramatic injury hit season,but remarkably and definitely atypically for elite goalscorers he produced a season that was comparable to his best in his 33rd year,a feat made even more remarkable for his near perfect appearance record.This Indian summer is reflected in the upturn in Shearer's graphical profile just prior to his retirement.
Another Newcastle player,Michael Owen of course is best remembered for his time at Liverpool.He is often cited as a player who played his very best football in is early twenties and whist it's true that he did produce extremely impressive number over that time scale,he does manage to peak only a year sooner than Shearer.Owen played in Liverpool sides with a multitude of goal threats,he overlapped with Robbie Fowler another 100 EPL goals man,so Liverpool were never as reliant on his goals as Blackburn and Newcastle were on Shearer's.Never the less Owen's achievement of averaging over 30% of his consistently successful side's scoring rate during the first seven seasons of his career was mighty.His fall,however has been precipitous as injury has blighted his appearances and his eye for goal.A metatarsal injury at Tottenham in his first year at Newcastle heralding the start of Owen's decline.
|A rare sighting of Michael Owen on a football pitch.|
The first graph for an elite scorer who is still playing regularly and is still somewhere near to his peak.Rooney's plot tells us both something about the nature of team goalscoring in the most recent past and something about Rooney's increasing importance to Manchester United.Rooney's teams have spread the goalscoring around and his scoring rate of around 30% of a team replete with the likes of Ronaldo and to a lesser degree Berbatov is just as impressive as was Shearer's 50% rate in a less goal hungry outfit.Rooney is already older than both Owen and Shearer were at their peak and his increasing contribution to a continuously successful United team shows why Sir Alex didn't chose to go down the Beckham route following the recent unrest between himself and his premier striker.
Another refugee from the MLS,Keane shows the classic ageing profile for strikers.The plot does not account for appearances,therefore the steady decline in scoring rate compared to that of the teams he was playing for is more likely to be down to a slowing reflexes rather than lack of opportunity.If anything Keane's decline has been the most dramatic of the players still active in the EPL,his team corrected scoring rate has reached the level a typical elite striker on average reaches in his mid to late thirties,not his early thirties.Keane's regression possibly explains why he chose to decamp to a lesser league rather than try to secure a permanent deal with another EPL team.His brace against Wolves on his loan return we'll chalk down to fate.
Probably the most precocious of the scoring talents of recent years.It's usually more difficult to hold your own in terms of scoring rates in a successful team,but that's what Fowler managed to do from the very start of his career.He was scoring goals at 40% of the rate of his Liverpool team when just out of is teens.His career didn't peak,it just started high and steadily declined to age related rates that were below those generally seen in player in their mid twenties.To his credit he hauled his pre retirement numbers up towards nearly average levels during a swansong back at Liverpool.
A relatively late starter to top flight football,Wright was almost 22 when he first played league football for Crystal Palace in the second tier.It was four years before he helped Palace make the step up via the playoffs and possibly because of his later start he saw his career peak with Arsenal a year or two later than the average.As a twenty nine year old he was banging in goals at a rate that was over half that of his team and even as a 35 year old he was scoring at rates that wouldn't have looked out of place in an average,elite scorer who was still around his peak.He also managed a double figure goals tally in his final year in the lower leagues,despite turning out for three different clubs.
The above graphs just give a flavour of each player's career,for instance scoring rates can be misleading where no account is taken of appearances made.A player scoring two goals in a single season appearance will have a very impressive scoring rate,but a team is likely to prefer a player who has a less impressive goals per game ratio and a larger number of games played.Fortunately,most of the above players have had prolonged stretches where they have played consistently.However,in the next post we'll see how often the very best goalscorers have been able to make it onto the pitch as they progress through their careers and we'll try to see if buying a proven,but ageing goalscorer such as Peter Crouch can be a good deal.