Scamacca, Haaland, Nunez and the migration of towering strikers to the Premier League

Many of England's top clubs have invested in players fitting the description of orthodox centre-forward

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As Gianluca Scamacca, the Italy international striker, underwent his medical at West Ham United on Tuesday, the club’s support staff counted up the big numbers. Scamacca could cost the London club more than all but two signings in their history, at over €40 million ($40.6m) from Sassuolo.

They learned his favoured shirt number is 91 - too large for Premier League rules on what a player can wear on his back. Then they jotted down his height: a towering 1.95m. West Ham have identified Scamacca, 23, as the sort of centre-forward who will trouble the best defenders in England’s top division with his high leap, his long stride and his extensive reach.

The need for a target man striker at West Ham has long been clear. The club’s climb, under David Moyes, from flirting with relegation in 2020 to European contenders - they reached the semi-finals of the Europa League last season, and have finished sixth and seventh in the last two Premier League campaigns - has been in part built around Michail Antonio’s successful evolution as a powerful leader of the forward line.

But Antonio has lacked a strong back-up. Scamacca looked a good fit for that role the longer West Ham scouted him, monitoring his sudden progress at Sassuolo, the upstarts of Serie A, where he scored 16 league goals in 2022-23, earning himself a place in the senior Italy squad.

Young centre-forwards are migrating in numbers to the top of the Premier League this summer, from various leading leagues. Scamacca is poised to join a procession of them. The list starts, first and foremost, with the outsized Erling Haaland, who arrived at Manchester City for around €60m at the outset of the transfer window from the Bundesliga, where he set various records for prolific, prodigious scoring with Borussia Dortmund.

Darwin Nunez, who has joined Liverpool for a fee to Benfica that could, with add-ons, rise close to €100m, was the leading scorer in Portugal’s Primeira Liga last season.

Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, courted by clubs from various European leagues, both chose to remain in the Premier League they have come to know best. Jesus, after five years at City, will wear No 9 for Arsenal in the coming season, his £45m ($54.2m) transfer already promising much, the Brazilian having netted four times in pre-season games so far.

His compatriot Richarlison, who played in the middle of Everton’s front line more often than in wide roles last season, has joined Tottenham Hotspur for an initial £50m.

That means new, high-cost strikers at five of the clubs who finished in the top seven places in the last Premier League, none of them over 25 years old and several fitting the description of orthodox centre-forward. The so-called ‘false-nine’ seems suddenly less fashionable.

Darwin Nunez has joined Liverpool in a deal that could eventually be worth close to €100m. Reuters

Haaland and Scamacca are penalty-box skyscrapers, Nunez imposing; they offer an important presence for sides built on strong service from the flanks, and in West Ham’s case, a team of well-rehearsed strategies with aerial set-pieces. Richarlison, who has scored close to one in four of his 48 Premier League career goals from headers, will also add an important physical presence for Spurs.

They all do plenty besides that, but represent a fresh tendency, alternative options for managers gearing themselves up for a domestic season where the number of possible substitutions will rise from three to five, meaning distinct attacking alternatives have added value.

It is also a season that will be interrupted by the World Cup. Clubs are investing in extra firepower in anticipation of players being vulnerable to fatigue when they return from Qatar after December.

Brazil's Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus have decided to stay in the Premier League. AFP

But like Haaland, whose Norway have not qualified for the World Cup, Scamacca will not run that risk, following Italy’s surprise failure to reach Qatar 2022. It was the one significant setback of an excellent 12 months for the Rome-born forward, whose career had previously taken him to PSV Eindhoven as a teenager, and through loan spells in Serie B and back to Dutch football.

He was involved in the national set-up through its various age-groups, however, and Italy head coach Roberto Mancini earlier this month said of Scamacca: “He has everything it takes to be a leading centre-forward, and he is clear about that. Playing abroad again will give him the experience that will help him to mature.”

Updated: July 27, 2022, 5:27 AM
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