Paolo Rossi, Udinese vs Juventus, May 1982.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Sconosciuto
The definition of a goal-poacher? In our eyes, it's got to be a player who, if they had no decent service at all, probably wouldn't come anywhere near to scoring a goal, so we wouldn't include the likes of Messi or Ronaldo in our list because, despite phenomenal scoring rates, they're capable of dropping deep to get the ball, beating a couple of defenders and then lashing one home from anywhere. Nor do we have room in our list for a giant traditional number nine, piling through the defence like a rampaging bull. We'll look at other great strikers elsewhere on the site, here we're talking about players who didn't like to leave the six year box if they could help it, forwards who might get a runny nose if they left the penalty area.
Anyway, goal poachers, goal-hangers, penalty box players, call them what you like, the best ones had the knack of being in exactly the right place, at the right time, to score that all important goal. Here are ten of our favourites...
Where else to start but the ultimate goal-poacher, the legendary Gerd Müller. Looking at the German, with his short, stocky appearance, complete with enormous thighs, you wouldn't expect him to be particularly mobile, yet that was his main physical asset. His speed off the mark and over short distances, lightning quick turns and movement, coupled with a natural instinct to be in the right place at the right time, made him football's greatest six yard box predator. He was a phenomenal goal scorer, and any time the ball was near him in the box it spelt danger, he seemed to score so many goals in the penalty area where he had his back to goal, spun quickly to lose his marker and made an opportunity for himself which more often than not he would score with.
During his fifteen years with Bayern Munich his scoring rate was incredible, he was the Bundesliga top scorer for seven seasons and nearly reached a ratio of a goal per game in over 600 games for the Bavarian giants, helping them to four Bundesliga titles and three European Cup triumphs. His record at international level was even better, scoring 68 goals in 62 appearances, and he was a key part of the teams that won the 1972 European Championships and the 1974 World Cup.
Clubs: 1861 Nördlingen, Bayern Munich, Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Juan Román Riquelme, playing for Argentina at the 2006 World Cup.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
One of the greatest strikers of the 1980s and early 90s, Gary Lineker scored goals at all of the clubs he played for, with the exception of an injury plagued-finale at Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Like many in the list of great goal poachers, Lineker wasn't a highly technical player, he was unlikely to skip past players with a drop of the shoulder or a couple of step-overs, but what he did have was a fantastic ability to read the game, a natural knack of being in the right place at the right time, and above all a great coolness in front of goal and a finishing ability second to none.
He started banging the goals in for hometown club Leicester City in the early 80s, and was soon regularly reaching the 20 goal a season mark. A great campaign in 1985-86 saw Lineker reach the 30 goal mark with Everton, winning the league in the process, and then topping it by claiming the World Cup Golden Shoe at Mexico ‘86 as the tournament's top scorer with six goals. That led to a move to Barcelona and two great seasons there, banging the goals in at the Camp Nou until Johan Cruyff took over and decided it would be a good idea to play him on the right wing. Having returned to England with Spurs, he became the league's top scorer again, thus becoming the only player in England to have topped the scoring charts with three separate clubs, Leicester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Clubs: Leicester City, Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Unlike many traditional centre forwards, Rossi lacked a physical presence and had a very slight build, but he was quick off the mark, agile and had razor-sharp reactions. And as with all great poachers he had an eye for goal and a natural ability to read the game and to anticipate where best to position himself for goal scoring opportunities.
Unlike many goal poachers, Rossi actually started out as a winger at Lanerossi Vicenza. It was down to a team-mate's injury that he got moved into a central position and it soon turned into something of a master-stroke as he suddenly found himself topping the scoring charts for Serie B in 1977, before doing exactly the same in Serie A the following year, 1977-78. This domestic form saw Rossi picked for the Argentina '78 World Cup, an opportunity which he grabbed fully, scoring three goals and being named as the tournament’s second best player, behind Mario Kempes. Four years later at Espana '82 he would go one better than this, not only being named the player of the tournament but also claiming the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer with six goals, three of them in that epic encounter with Brazil.
In between these two World Cup tournaments, Rossi did actually have to sit out the Europa '80 European Championships, on home soil, as he’d been banned for two years as part of the Totonero match-fixing scandal. Yet despite this controversy, it's his goalscoring exploits leading the Azzurri to World Cup glory in 1982 for which he's best remembered.
When it comes to professional goal hangers, "Pippo" was one of the best. He was often criticised for not bringing much else to his teams, but that didn’t worry fans of the likes of Atalanta, Juventus and Milan so long as he kept on scoring for them.
Despite only having a slight build, Inzaghi had a bit of pace about him, and used it to great effect playing on the shoulder of the last defender, often timing his runs to perfection to just beat the offside traps. What he lacked in technical skills he more than made up for in his positional play, awareness, anticipation and finishing.
Inzaghi's reputation led to some great quotes, Johan Cruyff once saying “Look, he can't actually play football at all. He's just always in the right position”, whilst Sir Alex Ferguson came up with the classic line, "That lad must have been born offside".
Part of the wave of fine Turkish footballers in the 1990s who swept the national team and the big three domestic clubs along and transformed them into genuine international contenders.
Whilst Šuker struggled to settle each time he tried his luck abroad, his goals kept flowing during his three spells with Galatasaray, particularly the middle spell from 1995 to 2000 when he scored more than 150 goals in just over 200 matches.
Whilst Šuker was tall, standing at six foot three, he wasn’t a traditional target man and you wouldn't find Turkey or Galatasary pumping long balls up to him looking for him to nod them on. What Šuker was though, is a superb penalty box player, and his ability one-on-one against the keeper from around the penalty spot distance was deadly. He also had a great ability to read the game and pull away from his marker to get on the end of crosses from the likes of Gheorghe Hagi, Okan Buruk and Hasan Sas.
Any footballer given such a fantastic nickname because of his goal-scoring has to be included in our list. Caszely’s goals for Colo Colo in the Chilean league in the 1960s and 70s earned him the brilliant title "El Rey del Metro Cuadrado" (the King of the Square Metre), a nod to his finishing and skill in tight areas inside the box.
Short and stocky, Caszely had a similar build to the master goal poacher himself, Gerd Müller, and when you watch video compilations of his goals you can see other similarities - back to goal, spinning quickly to tuck the ball away or absolutely lashing goals in to the roof of the net from the six yard box.
Caszely's goals helped Colo Colo end a seven year wait for a league title in 1970, and another followed in 1972, as well as a famous run to the final of the 1973 Copa Liberatores, where they narrowly lost to Independiente in extra time, Caszely finishing the competition as its top scorer. His goal scoring exploits would give Caszely the opportunity to escape Chile’s dictatorship and get a transfer to Spain, where his fine scoring record would continue for Levante. Caszely made headlines of another sort at the 1974 World Cup, becoming the first player in the competition's history to be sent off after he kicked out at an opponent in the group stages against the hosts, West Germany.
Caszely spent five years in Spain, Espanyol making a move for him after his opening season. He returned to Colo Colo in 1978 and continued where he’d left off, loitering around the box and scoring goals aplenty as the Santiago giants claimed another three league titles. He came close to winning Chile's first ever international title in 1979, but agonisingly lost out to Paraguay in the final of the Copa América, although he did claim some individiual glory as he was named as the tournament's best player.
Full name Enrique Castro González, but known everywhere as Quini, he was one of the great penalty box players of Spanish football, winning the Pichichi Trophy five times as La Liga’s top scorer, three of them achieved, incredibly, at Sporting Gijón, who had struggled at the lower reaches of La Liga for much of his time there. Having scored more than 200 goals in less than 400 games over a 12 year period for Los Rojiblancos, Quini signed for Barcelona in 1980, and the goal scoring would continue at the Camp Nou.
Quini wasn’t the tallest, or the fastest, but he was strong, his finishing ability was second to none, and he knew exactly where to position himself in the box to be fed by the likes of Maradona, Bernd Schuster, Allan Simonsen etc, Despite being kidnapped for twenty five days towards the end of his first season at the Camp Nou, Quini still managed to top the league’s scoring charts, although his enforced absence from the first team resulted in a slump in form for the club which effectively cost them the title. The kidnapping didn't seem to affect Quini's form on the pitch too much, as he continued to knock the goals in, yet again winning the Pichichi Trophy in the 1981-82 season, with a phenomenal 27 goals in 32 games. His goal-to-games ratio would tail off in the final two seasons with Barcelona and he returned to Sporting Gijón in 1984 to finish his career at the El Molinón stadium. When Quini died in 2018, the stadium was renamed as the Estadio El Molinón-Enrique Castro "Quini", in his honour.
Whilst his overall scoring record isn’t as comparable as many others, we feel compelled to include Schillaci in the list, just for what he achieved at Italia 90, if you’re gonna be a poacher you might as well do it on the greatest stage. Has a player ever shone so brightly, but for such a short period, as Schilllaci at Italia 90.
Before Italia ‘90, Schillaci had only had one season in Serie A under his belt, a decent season with Juve as they looked to rebuild following the gradual breakup of their great 80s sides. Before that he’d been plying his trade with Messina in Serie B and Serie C. Finishing top scorer in Serie B in 1989 had persuaded Juve to take a gamble on him.
There were the obvious comparisons to Paolo Rossi from 1982, who’d come in from the cold to become the goal scoring hero, but the circumstances were quite different as Rossi had been a previous star but had served a ban. Schillaci on the other hand was way down the pecking order, despite having a good season for Juve in the run up. Schillaci did well to be selected for the squad and wasn’t expected to feature.
Whilst Gianluca Vialli was expected to be the goal scoring hero, it was Schillaci who ended up being the hero.
As the games continued, and the goals kept on coming, it genuinely looked like he could do no wrong, and that he would score every game. For those small number of games he was the ultimate goal poacher on the ultimate stage. He was in the right place at the right time every time a cross came in, or a ball broke into space. And it was all done with those mad eyes popping out of his head every time he notched another.
It came to a sad end in the semi-final defeat to Argentina, and a slight sour note as despite his goals and form, Schillaci didn’t take one of the penalties, claiming that he wasn’t up to it because of an injured foot.
He scored six goals in seven matches at Italia ’90, whereas his entire career with the Azzurri featured only one more goal and nine more appearances.
This is from the goal hanger There was a collective sigh of despair at The Goalhanger HQ when Klose scored a 23rd minute goal against Brazil on the 8th of July 2014. Not because it had put Germany 2:0 up against the beleaguered hosts, but because it had knocked the great Ronaldo off his perch as the World Cup's record goal scorer - an incredible 16th goal in the sport's ultimate competition.
And whilst it was disappointing to see one of our favourite players lose his record, one has to sit back and admire the feat from one of the great penalty-box players of the modern era.
Klose's record at 1.FC Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich and Lazio wasn't too bad either, consistently finding the net over a career spanning more than 15 years at the top level.
Clubs: FC 08 Homburg, 1.FC Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich, Lazio.