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Bolton Wanderers: The Curse of the Number 9 Shirt

Bolton Wanderers have struggled for goals from their 'main' striker in recent years - Chris takes a look back and wonders why

Alex Livesey

So with the news today that Bolton Wanderers will begin the season with the number #9 shirt unallocated, I thought it might be worthwhile to look back at some previous incumbents and see how they fared.

We all know that of late the #9 shirt has been worn with little success. I didn't realise just how little until I took a look back over the past 20 seasons:

SEASON

DIVISION

PLAYER

APPS

GOALS

LEAGUE POSITION

1994/95

First Division

Mixu Paatelainen

44

12

3rd

1995/96

Premier League

Mixu Paatelainen

15

1

20th

1996/97

First Division

Nathan Blake

42

20

1st

1997/98

Premier League

Nathan Blake

35

12

18th

1998/99

First Division

Nathan Blake

12

6

6th

1999/00

First Division

Bo Hansen

31

1

6th

2000/01

First Division

Bo Hansen

44

5

3rd

2001/0

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

11

2

16th

2002/03

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

33

7

17th

2003/04

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

33

8

8th

2004/05

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

27

9

6th

2005/06

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

22

1

8th

2006/07

Premier League

Henrik Pedersen

18

1

7th

2007/08

Premier League

Heidar Helguson

6

2

16th

2008/09

Premier League

Johan Elmander

29

5

13th

2009/10

Premier League

Johan Elmander

25

3

14th

2010/11

Premier League

Johan Elmander

37

10

14th

2011/12

Premier League

Tuncay

16

0

18th

2012/13

Championship

David Ngog

31

8

7th

2013/14

Championship

David Ngog

17

3

14th

The shirt has, historically, been linked with the late, great Nat Lofthouse who wore with such distinction during his time at Bolton Wanderers between 1946 and 1960, a 14 year spell that yielded no fewer than 452 appearances and a club record 255 goals. A record which stands to this day.

The Changing Role of the #9

The game has changed, since the Lofthouse era.

In fact, if you look at the above table, the game has changed since the late 1990s. Back in the day, when I first started watching Wanderers, in the late 1980s, the Bolton #9 shirt was reserved for the club's main goalscorer. This trend maintained through the majority of the next two decades, although the role played by the #9 often was redefined.

The #9 has become more of an image - the main striker no longer has to wear that number. The era of squad numbers obviously contributes to this change in trend, but the 'feeling' of the centre forward has altered and changed from its roots. The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney - all can be considered the main strikers for four of the biggest clubs in the world, but they could not in any way be defined as a 'traditional' centre forward.

In the case of Bolton Wanderers, we have seen a transition from the target man-type forward of Nathan Blake's era through to the more cerebral, attacking-midfielder-esque Tuncay and Johan Elmander forward. The supplementary striker has partnered the change in tactical fluidity with many teams operating a three-up-top formation with the main man in the centre being more of a target man, a Kevin Davies, if you like, rather than a Kevin Phillips.

The need for managers to operate in this way reflects not only on the changing nature of football but also in the changing nature of the tactical game. Playing a modified 4-3-3 into a 4-5-1 brings greater solidity into the centre of the park as teams set up 'not to lose'.

Obviously with Wanderers you have cases such as Henrik Pedersen and Bo Hansen, whose own poor goal returns can be mitigated by their managers playing them somewhat out of position, but again this willingness to put the player elsewhere on the field points to a lack of trust in them as a centre-forward.

The Future of the #9

Our own recent struggles for form and goals from our main man is, in my view, one of the main reasons why we are in the position we are in.

Gary Megson's choice to spunk £8.2m on Johan Elmander, Owen Coyle's decision to waste £4m on David Ngog can both be highlighted as two of the poorer transfers of recent times. The fact that they both were intended to be the main man whose goals would secure our Premier League status is a huge factor in the reality of where we are today.

We have not bought well. We have wasted what little money we have on players who were either not good enough or not man enough to bear the #9 on their backs.

Whoever is the next to occupy the famous old shirt will need to be the man. The man. We have the likes of Craig Davies and Jermaine Beckford on our books, but do you have confidence in either being the man? The simple fact that neither has been awarded the shirt points to both the manager's lack of faith in them performing the main striker role, and, we must hope, that there is an incoming striker who Dougie Freedman feels can handle that responsibility.

I'm sure it was earmarked for Lukas Jutkiewicz, but he proved too expensive. It may be that the shirt is set for Joe Mason who has again been linked with a loan from Cardiff City. If it was up to me then it would be saved for Chris Wood, the New Zealand international striker presently with Leicester City, and formerly of Millwall and WBA.

We need someone to come in and make the #9 shirt their own. You can get out of this league with an average team, so long as you have a centre forward who can bag you 20 goals in a season. At this moment in time we do not have that striker, but let's hope that Dougie and the chairman can bring him in soon.

Our season may depend on it.