By Nick Harris
2 June 2010
An analysis of the strikers from Europe’s leading nations heading for South Africa – and their records at domestic level in 2009-10 – proves that Darren Bent is uniquely unfortunate in not being selected to be part of England’s 23-man squad.
The 26-year-old Sunderland forward is the only footballer with a World Cup-bound nation from any of Europe’s “big five” leagues – England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 – to have scored 20 or more league goals this season and not be going to South Africa, sportingintelligence‘s study shows. Bent scored 24 league goals this season.
In England, all four other players with 20 league goals or more will be integral to their manager’s plans: the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba (29 league goals for Chelsea), England’s Wayne Rooney (26 for Manchester United) and Frank Lampard (22 for Chelsea), and Argentina’s Carlos Tevez (23 for Manchester City).
In Spain, all four players with 20 goals or more will be key for their own nations: Argentina’s Lionel Messi (34 league goals for Barcelona) and Gonzalo Higuain (27 for Real Madrid), Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (26 for Real Madrid) and Spain’s David Villa (21 for Valencia). The next highest scorer in Spain, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan (18 for Atletico Madrid) is also going to South Africa.
In Italy, only two players scored 20 or more Serie A goals in 2009-10, and both of them will go to the World Cup: Italy’s Antonio Di Natale (29 goals for Udinese) and Argentina’s Diego Milito (22 goals for Internazionale). Also on their way with fewer than 20 goals are Italy’s Giampaolo Pazzini (19 goals for Sampdoria) and Alberto Gilardino (15 for Fiorentina).
In the Bundesliga, the top scorer was Edin Džeko (22 goals for Wolfsburg) but his nation, Bosnia, didn’t qualify: he would have been a certainty if they had. The only other player to score more than 20 goals, Germany’s Stefan Kiessling (21 for Bayer Leverkusen) will be at the tournament, as will players with fewer goals including Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios (19 goals for Borussia Dortmund) and the Netherlands Arjen Robben (16 for Bayern Munich).
As our graphic below shows in detail, no player in the French top division scored as many as 20 league goals; two of the top four scorers wouldn’t be in contention for South Africa anyway because their nations, Senegal and Turkey, did not qualify.
We also include a list of the leading scorers from the Dutch Eredivisie: top scorer Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Ajax (35 goals for his club) is going to South Africa, as is his club-mate Marko Pantelic (16 goals), with Serbia.
(Ajax, for the record, scored the most goals in any major European league, a whopping 106, and they finished only second in their division. Chelsea scored 103, and Real Madrid 102, while no teams at all in the top divisions of Italy, Germany or France scored more than 75 league goals).
Bent has good reason for feeling truly glum, then. Not only is he the only 20+ goal scorer in the big five leagues not to be going because he wasn’t picked (as opposed to his country missing out), but only seven players in the six biggest leagues combined scored more than his 24 league goals.
“I feel really disappointed,” he told his club’s website last night. “I have always said to myself – if you play well and do your best for Sunderland then there is a chance you can go to the biggest tournament in the world. But obviously on this occasion it has not worked out.”
The closest that other players might come to sharing Bent’s frustrations are Palermo’s Fabrizio Miccoli, whose 19 goals were not good enough to get into Italy’s squad (but then they are the World Cup holders); Germany’s Kevin Kuranyi, who scored 18 goals for Schalke 04 (but then he did have a massive fall-put with Joachim Low in 2008, and the coach vowed never to pick him again); and Denmark’s Mads Junker, who scored 21 goals for Roda to be the No3 marksmen in the Dutch league (but then again he’s only won one cap, four years ago, and the Danes are only taking three strikers anyway).
One other statistical quirk to note is the rareness of any European player from the six biggest leagues to be inside the top five strikers in another “big six” league. There are, in fact, none at all fitting that bill aside from the Netherlands’s Arjen Robben squeezing in as joint No5 scorer in the German league in 2009-10.
On the other hand, Argentina have at least one representative among the top five strikers in four of the six leagues: Tevez in England, Messi and Higuain in Spain, Milito in Italy and Lisandro Lopez in France.