It was former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira who boldly predicted after France ’98 that the position of the traditional striker would soon be made redundant.
While Parreira’s forecast has been proven incorrect, the concept of every team possessing a physically-dominating workhorse up top is certainly no longer universal.
The growth of the playmaker, goalscoring midfielders, wide forwards and the brief ‘false nine’ phenomenon coupled with the impact coaches like Pep Guardiola have had on the game in the past decade has left traditionalists pining for an old-school forward.
But just like ripped jeans, undercuts and 90s sportswear, things can surprisingly come back into fashion and Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Edinson Cavani and Diego Costa have shown that the demise of the classic No 9 has been greatly exaggerated.
The traditional striker, therefore, is still a strong commodity in the game but they also tend to be expensive based on the simple and hard-to-argue logic that the more goals you score, the more games you will win.
There is a forward lurking in the Premier League, however, who while may not be of that particular vintage, represents fantastic value for anyone from a lower top-flight club to a top-four side on the lookout for a solid back-up.
West Bromwich Albion Salomón Rondón will almost certainly not be playing Championship football next season and reportedly carries a £13.5million release clause in his contract, a minimal figure in what is likely to be another record-breaking summer transfer market.
Always fit and reliable
The Venezuelan turns 29 in September so a four-year contract would not be a massive gamble given he is a striker who doesn’t rely on great pace and in three seasons at the Hawthorns has never suffered anything approaching a serious injury.
Of West Brom’s 111 Premier League games since his arrival from Rubin Kazan in 2015, he has played in 104 of them. As per transfermarkt.com the longest period he’s been out with an injury was the 15 matches he missed for Malaga with a fractured metatarsal in late 2013.
Durability is a frequently overlooked asset in the transfer market and, barring an act of extreme misfortune, you know when you buy Rondón you’re going to have him available most of the time.
The fact he has three top-flight campaigns under his belt also lessens the need to additional work in helping him integrate into English football and, in theory, he should be able to hit the ground running, wherever he lands.
But even if you’re spending what qualifies as a modest figure in today’s landscape, you still need a little more than just a player who’s going to stay fit.
In terms of the goal charts, Rondon’s return of 24 in 104 isn’t spectacular but it equates to 23 per cent of all the Baggies’ top-flight strikes in his time at the club. For context, Kane has been responsible for 36 per cent of Spurs’ goals in that time (80 of 221) and Lukaku 31 per cent of Everton and United’s (59 in 186).
Rondón isn’t in that league but isn’t that far away and has still been contributing considerably for one of the Premier League’s weakest attacking sides; in the last three seasons, West Brom have ranked 19th, 13th and currently 20th in terms of goals scored.
Rondón is responsible for that, of course, and in terms of expected goals the Baggies underperformed by 5.75 in 2015/16 and 4.05 in 2017/18 but overperformed by 4.79 in 2016/17, leaving an average of 2.33 below their overall xG.
Rondón has scored nine in 2015/16 against an xG of 9.90, eight against 9.36 in 2016/17 and seven against 6.71 this season; his overall total of 24 just 1.97 under his xG for the three seasons.
Deserves a chance in a better team
These are by no means spectacular numbers, either in a good or bad sense, they’re just okay. But given he’s played for such an average-to-poor team all this time, it raises the question what he’d be like in for an average-to-good side?
His goals to shot conversion rate is 9.2 per cent, which is on the low side, but as the xG figures show the quality of chances he’s receiving aren’t of the five-star variety. And when you factor in that the player this season in navy and white with the highest xA is defender Craig Dawson’s 3.27 (zero assists) it gives you an idea of the tools Rondon is working with.
In terms of his personal attributes, his power in the air is obvious as he’s ranked 10th among all attackers in terms of aerial duels won by 90 minutes with 5.46, at a success rate of 43 per cent.
There is also a lot of not-so-good: his 3.26 dispossessions per 90 is the fourth-worst among all attackers, 4.32 touches in the opposition box ranks 42nd and his 18.34 accurate passes places him 73rd. These aren’t numbers to get Guardiola or José Mourinho too excited.
But it’s a given that Rondón isn’t going to be a regular starter for a top-level side, but what he can be is a capable offensive weapon for a mid to lower-table team, who play with a brand of football suited to his muscular style of play.
Of the league’s most prolific long passing teams: Burnley (81 per game), Brighton (75), Everton (73), Leicester (72) and West Ham United (70), three of those could find a place in their squad; Burnley being the exception with Chris Wood while West Ham may view him as too similar to Andy Carroll, albeit a less injured version.
Brighton are on the cusp of safety but cannot expect to go into their second Premier League season hoping for another 11 goals from Glenn Murray, although they will expect more of an impact from Jürgen Locadia. With Leonardo Ulloa heading back to Leicester after an unremarkable loan spell, Rondon would provide a third option.
Leicester look well-stocked with Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho but the Nigerian is being increasingly deployed as a second-striker or even number ten, meaning that opens up a spot for a penalty box player who represents an aerial threat.
Not including those who may be joining Wolves in the top-flight next season, the other sides who stands out in terms of being a decent fit for Rondón are Tottenham, Southampton and Huddersfield, essentially due to the fact they lead the Premier League for crosses per game with 22, 22 and 21.
Saints may not be with us in 2018/19 and, having invested significantly in tall Argentine Guido Carrillo, that probably precludes them anyway while Huddersfield’s Steve Mounie is of a similar mould to Rondón, which leaves Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino is reportedly exploring potential replacements for Fernando Llorente to act as Kane’s deputy for 2018/19 in a season which will once again include European football and, hopefully, deep cup runs.
In Rondón, he will see a flawed but proven commodity who could, with better quality of service, be a bargain at £13.5million.