Denmark and Maradona in 1986, Cameroon and Gascoigne in 1990, England and Eusebio in 1966. Our memories of World Cups are smothered by the individuals and teams that stole our hearts during the 30 day tournament. But it often isn’t the man who holds aloft the World Cup that is granted a place in our memory but the man who lifts the Golden Boot.
Perhaps its a mixture of my age and nationality that creates my fondness in this sideshow. My first conscious World Cup was Mexico 1986 and feeling cheated by Maradona’s hand I took solace in Lineker winning the Golden Boot, his 6 goals denying Maradona a clean sweep of the competition.
Four years later following an even more glorious English failure in Italy the Golden Boot was won by Toto Schillaci with 6 goals, despite only have won a solitary cap before the tournament. He appeared to have come out of nowhere and in many respects returned there straight after.
USA 1994 was a little lost on me. My first major tournament without England held in a country that at the time seemed to have little regard or respect for the game. The Golden Boot was shared, when sharing was still allowed, with six goals by Russia’s Oleg Salenko and Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov, who capped off a fantastic season with Barcelona’s Dream Team.
In France 1998 Davor Šuker took the Boot with 6 goals as part of a Croatia team that forced their way through to the 3rd/4th place play-off, an amazing achievement for a country only 7 years old.
In 2002 there was one man setting Korea, Japan and the rest of the world alight. Ronaldo, now too unfairly remembered for the injury and weight ravaged later years, was at the top of his game. A man playing with boys. He scored 8 goals in only seven games and wiped away the memories of his bizarre catatonic appearance in the 1998 Final, although he could have done without that haircut.
In Germany the deceptively prolific Miroslav Klose took the Boot with 5 goals. Whilst not wanting to take anything from his deserved achievements, it will be a shame if in Brazil he breaks Ronaldo’s record of 15 World Cup goals, he is currently only a goal behind and as Germany’s sole central striker looks poised to take advantage.
In South Africa, Germany retained the boot with Thomas Müller in a way that was incredibly symbolic of the tournament as a whole. Many of the billed superstars were shattered after their domestic campaigns and slept through the competition. Diego Forlán, David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Thomas Müller all finished with 5 goals, the latter winning due to his higher assists. It’s like a World Cup Final being won on the least thrown-ins conceded. Surely FIFA could have created a penalty competition for the tied players against the winner of the Golden Glove. It would have made FIFA a little more money to tide over those extra costs they incur.
So, who will win it this year? The media adverts tell us obviously it will be Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo, or Neymar, or even Suárez, why not – these guys are the best in the world, but if you analyse the previous winners it seems clear that is not the case. What do the winners of the last seven Golden Boots have in common? Ronaldo aside, none of them could have held claim to being one of the greatest players in the world. Also no player has won the award twice in its history.
The goals to games ratio in the tournament recently has been low at 2.27 in South Africa and 2.30 in Germany compared to France’s 2.67 and USA’s 2.71. This is perhaps due to the vogue of possession based football most evident in the rise of Spain internationally and in European club competitions over the last decade.
Ronaldo aside, the winner has scored 5 or 6 in each tournament so that will be the amount that the winner is likely to score. There is no centre forward on the planet capable of Ronaldo’s form. His namesake Cristiano and his arch rival Leo Messi have yet to really transfer their form to the international competition but have the talent to do so. Each of the players have reached either the final itself or the third place play-off, seven games in total. The only exceptions being Salenko who didn’t make it out of the group stage and Lineker who fell at the Quarter Final, but 3 of Lineker’s 5 came against Poland and 5 of Salenko’s 6 came against Cameroon. Their success can perhaps be attributed to those individual results.
It appears that a Golden Boot winner has to be part of a team capable of getting to at least the semi-finals, which makes perfect sense, the more games they play the more chance they have of scoring.
So far our Golden Boot player will score either 5 or 6 goals and play all seven rounds but there is another factor which will determine the outcome. Three of these games, almost half, will be in the group stages for which we already know their opponents, and the harder the draw, the harder it will be to score. The groups where there are more than one challenging team are likely to be tense and cagey, especially as the difficult games appear to be the opening ties. This removes Spain and Holland, especially with the addition of Chile. Italy, Uruguay and England, all outsiders for a semi-final place will also struggle. Germany and Portugal in a difficult group with Ghana and the USA will also find goals rare. For me Argentina, France and Belgium are the three teams that have the ability to reach the final stage and have relatively easy groups.
Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s prime candidate. He has had a fantastic season at Everton and will use this World Cup as a rather expensive shop window. He is powerful and confident and will enjoy the defences in Group H. Although questions should be asked to whether Belgium will be overawed by the occasion, their first major competition since 2002. In the last three years they have transformed from gravely underrated to a little overrated. Whilst talented they are inexperienced and the Quarter Finals would be a great achievement.
Who knows which France we will see at this World Cup. Their team is certainly good enough but is their attitude? They seem to have morphed into the Dutch team of the nineties over the last decade. Franck Ribéry will be a big miss for them but they still have a lot of talent in the attacking third. Karim Benzema is their greatest scoring threat but his mentality often overtakes his enormous talent. If preferred to Benzema this could be when we see Oliver Giroud fulfil a little more of his promise. He has been chronically over-stretched at Arsenal this year following his difficult first season but he is technically very good, is a great finisher and has able support. If Giroud arrives fresh and his teammates have the right mind-set this could be a big year for France.
Argentina would love to win the World Cup in Brazil. They have silently drifted into the competition out of the eyes of the heavily marketed Brazil, Spain and Germany. Whilst their defence is a little fragile their options in attack are frightening. Messi seems an obvious choice for Golden Boot, although this has been his most testing season on and off the field. It will be interesting to see if this is the year on the tail of his least successful (although still with 41 goals) club season that he comes of age in the blue and white stripes. His international record is actually quite impressive with 37 goals in 64 games, but I believe Argentina’s greatest chance lies in Gonzalo Higuaín. He will get plenty of chances and in the easiest group could be on 3 or 4 before the knockout round. His movement and finishing are excellent, he has great support and will garner less attention from the opposition than his diminutive colleague. If I had money it would be on Higuaín. Although I have been wrong before.