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How to Scout: The Modern Centre Forward

How to scout: The complete modern forward

The term ‘complete forward’ has been thrown around rather loosely as of late, but what does this phrase mean? A complete forward is a striker who excels in all aspects; someone who is tall enough to hold-up play, drop deep to link up play, make runs to stretch the opposition’s defence, but most importantly score goals.

A few such examples include names like Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski and Krzysztof Piatek. A special mention should go to German youngster Jann-Fiete Arp, as he may soon be on this list of elite players.

There are many components to this role that often go unnoticed. In this analysis, we will look further into what makes a complete forward, and how to spot a player of such tactical rarity.

A determined mindset

In order to become a world-class athlete in any sport, you have to possess the mindset of a champion: someone who isn’t self-centered, but is single-minded enough to want to improve. Harry Kane is going to be the focus of this sentiment as he is a perfect example of someone who possesses this golden mindset.

“I saw him walk through the door (at Tottenham) as a 16-year-old and had the pleasure of working with him for four years while I was on the staff and he was a fine young man. You could see from the day he walked in he had a real desire to improve himself as a footballer and the one thing I’d say about him, which unfortunately you don’t say about a lot of young footballers, is that he had a passion for the game. He loves football, he loves playing, he loves scoring goals.” – Clive Allen

The above quote really underlines Kane’s elite mindset. He isn’t arrogant but has confidence, and has the desire to improve in any way possible. This is what makes a complete forward so incredible: they have everything. They’re a target-man, a false nine, a pressing forward and poacher all in one. But this excellence doesn’t come from just being a good footballer.

“He’s got the lot and he is only going to get better. He can do everything, score a goal, pass it and bring other players in. If every footballer had his attitude a manager’s job would be so much easier. He’s like a Frank Lampard or a Stevie Gerrard, a consummate professional.” – Harry Redknapp.

Harry Redknapp’s psychological analysis of Kane is perfect. He possesses the desire to be perfect, because great is not good enough. Kane has always had his desire, but it translates into something far greater than being a great footballer.

If we look at Kane over the past four seasons, he’s looked a different man every season. This season, his passing has improved in a major way. Let’s take a look at a visual graph I made illustrating this point.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
A data visualisation piece depicting Kane’s improvement in passing in comparison to last season.

As we can see, this desire to improve has translated into his passing improving. His long balls are now at a world-class level. He has the ability to pick out his teammates who like to make runs after Kane drops deeper, which players such as Alli and Son thrive off.

Drop deep, pass the ball

This component to the complete forward role is identical to that of a false nine. After linking play by dropping deep, the players around the striker are able to run in behind into the space vacated by this link-up play.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
Kane dropping deep, confusing the Chelsea back four, allowing Son and Eriksen to make runs in behind.

As a result of Kane dropping deep, Luiz and Rudiger look at each other in a confused manner. To add to this, Azpilacueta is quite wide and Alonso is out of position. Due to Kane dropping deep, he has allowed Son and Eriksen to run in behind the Chelsea back line by vacating space in between the lines. Kane can run into this for a cut-back from either Eriksen or Son, something Spurs do so well

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
Piatek dropping deep, causing an abundance of space for his side to exploit.

As we can see above, Piatek has dropped deep. Being so deep, he has the opportunity to play the ball to his right-back, who can then play a penetrating ball to the attackers exploiting the space created by Piatek.

This is a trait that is possessed by all complete modern forwards. The tactical knowledge to do this is impressive, as is the off-the-ball movement required to do this to the fullest effect.

This tactical trait is no coincidence, nor is it a natural movement, but rather the result of world-class youth coaching. Because of the rise of UEFA and FA regulations on youth development, we will only see this trait become more common in the years to come, thanks to the EPPP program.

Dictating the press

Nine times out of 10, these types of forwards are lone strikers up top. Because of this complete forwards must possess excellent knowledge and ability in the press.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
Robert Lewandowski leading and initiating a man orientated press, forcing the opponent to go long and lose the ball.

With a majority of top teams playing a 4-2-3-1, the forward must be tactically adept, as well as energetic. Complete forwards also possess the ability to play as a pressing forward, a role we see Jamie Vardy play for Leicester.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
A precise positional map of the locations of where Lewandowski completed defensive actions.

Above is a precise map of where former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski completed his defensive actions in a 5-1 win against Borussia Monchengladbach. The Polish forward completed a total of 13 defensive actions. From this, we can determine the forward’s importance in the press. As you can see, seven of these 13 duels are in and around the box, underlining the importance of a complete forward in the press.

With a large number of sides favouring the use of building out from the back, the ability to lead and orchestrate the press is incredibly important. This something a complete forward excels in.

Disrupting the opposition’s formation

Making runs, be it off-the-shoulder types or a progressive runs from deep, can be a real pain to any opposition as it is massively disruptive no matter how compact or structured they may be. Tottenham and England’s Harry Kane is the master of this, and he does it to such devastating effect.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
As a result of dropping deep, Kane has created an overload in midfield, allowing time and space to drive forward to disrupt United’s back four.

After Kane drops deep, Spurs find themselves 4v1 against the compact midfield of Manchester United. Due to this abundance of space and players, Kane has the time and space to drive at the United back four.

This progressive dribble by Kane massively disrupted Ole Gunnar Solsjaer’s back four, and due to the narrow fashion in United’s defending, Kane has wide options to pass to. Of course, from being so deep Kane is now unmarked, allowing him to famously get into metres of space to attack.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
Piatek makes a run from deep. As a result of this, the opposing defender has come to close him down, leaving a mass of space open to exploit.

As the Milan right winger has stayed high and wide, this has kept Atalanta’s defence closer to their goal. It has also allowed Krzysztof Piatek to drop deep. As Milan counter-attack Atalanta, Piatek makes a progressive run. In doing this, the opposition defender has come out to press him.

This has left acres of space uninhabited, as we can see above. Unlike most complete forwards, Piatek has a burst of pace. This decent overall top-speed allows the Pole to burst into the wide channels, opening space for his teammates to play into.

Overall, this is one of the most important traits a complete-forward must possess – only behind top quality link-up play. It allows the forward to disrupt the opposing side’s tactical shape and structure. It brings in his teammates, and in general makes life difficult for the defender. They don’t know if they’re to follow their man, or sit back and allow him to pull the strings from between the lines.

Predict the future

It’s all well and good understanding how to identify an established complete-forward, but how do you spot an undeveloped player that possesses these traits? Let’s take a look at Hamburger SV’s Jann-Fiete Arp, as he is a player with massive potential in this respect. Speaking to DFB Arp said this:

“I can definitely still work on my weaker left foot. I can also improve my heading. All in all, I have to work on myself in every area. No part of me has already reached its full potential.”

This ticks one important box as it shows he is determined to improve in every aspect. He is dedicated and hard-working. The young German forward has openly spoken about his admiration for Tottenham striker and fellow complete forward, Harry Kane.

“He plays the way I want to play,” Arp explained. “He’s pacy and very comfortable with and without the ball. It’s difficult to stop him. You need to pay attention for 90 minutes because he can score at any time.”

This again underlines his determination and style of play. For a youngster to speak intelligently about not only his job but the players he models himself on shows great maturity and professionalism. But enough of that: how does he play?

Arp has played in a plethora of positions for Hamburger SV, from striker, winger, attacking midfielder to defensive midfielder. This shows a real positive attitude, as well as incredible tactical and technical ability.

With 0.54 goals and assists per game, an impressive statistic for a player of 19 years of age, Arp has a massive future. He has an incredible first touch, an eye for goal, and the ability to bring his teammates into the game.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
The young striker bursts into space after creating it for himself by positioning himself deeper than the average forward.

Similar to Kane and Piatek, Arp boasts incredible off-the-ball intelligence. This often allows him the time and space to make dangerous progressive runs, and in combination with his dribbling he is able to cause real concern to his opposition.

With 5.4 dribbles per game, with a fantastic 68.3% success rate, the youngster is already an incredible dribbler and has plenty of time to improve even more.

Recruitment analysis scout Robert Lewandowski Harry Kane statistics
As a result of Arp’s excellent dribbling, his defender is on the ground. This gives him the time to pick and deliver the pass to perfection, resulting in a goal.

The image above underlines Jann-Fiete Arp’s incredible dribbling ability. After a dangerous progressive run, he has the ability to literally put his marker on the floor, giving him the space to execute a fantastic pass across the goal to give his strike partner an easy tap-in.


Complete forwards are a seriously entertaining type of player to watch. They have everything. They possess the ability to manipulate the opposing team’s shape, drop deep to link-up play, accurately switch the ball to the other side of the pitch, and to most importantly scoring goals.

They have both an incredible team ethic as well as a highly determined self-focused attitude. They want to improve individually, and to help the team at all costs. As tactical trends come and go, the complete forward is a strain of striker that will always stay around. Teams have gone from wanting speedy poachers, pressing forwards, false nines to wanting this multi-purpose player.

These players aren’t new. We have seen players such as Gary Lineker and Jurgen Klinsmann 20 or 30 years ago, but they weren’t as common until quite recently. With the rise of Harry Kane, Krzysztof Piatek, and soon Jann-Fiete Arp, we should be seeing this exciting player type even more with the level of youth coaching progressing at a rapid rate.

If you’d like to request the next article of the How to Scout series, tweet me @Xanoriah – until next time.

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