Can there be a more beautiful position to play in football than inside forward? And yet it is something of a dying breed in the modern game.
Inside right; inside left for preference, since there is something slightly rarer and more exotic about being able to swing your left leg at a ball and still manage to remain standing upright at the same time. Running the channels; one on either side of the centre-forward, who appears little more than a ponderous rhinoceros in comparison to the two Thomson’s Gazelles that sprint at his side; a blunt instrument only required to put his head in where by rights only boots should be.
In the modern game, Liverpool perhaps retain a front line, which bears the closest comparison to the traditional attacking formations of old, with Mo Salah and Sadio Mané playing something akin to the inside forward roles with typically devastating effect.
The inside forward is an elegant position, requiring both shooting and dribbling abilities; blistering pace; and… something else. An elusive quality, above and beyond mere footballing prowess: finesse; style; sex appeal.
Think of the great inside forwards of the past and these are the qualities about them that instinctively spring to mind; individual flashes of brilliance, which shine brighter than any overall contribution to the team.
Trevor Whymark in the successful Ipswich team of the 1970s; Duncan McKenzie; Stan Bowles. An inside forward lives fast and his career at the top does not necessarily last long. Whymark, McKenzie, Bowles: you could count the combined England caps on the fingers of one hand––Two hands, actually: Whymark 1, McKenzie 0, Bowles 5 (Ed.). Their star is fleeting; their transit bright.
But the destiny of the inside forward is typically a story of failure; few medals won; a dearth of trophies in the cabinet, and this, perhaps more than anything else, explains the reason for their demise. The modern game is dominated more by a need for success, and the revenue that that brings, over aesthetic appreciations but, if the Beautiful Game wants to continue to justify its billing, it needs the inside forward, faults and all.
© Donnie Blake
Donnie Blake used to play right back, since you ask.