England hit by striker shortage with No 9s set to dominate transfer market

Fifa's World Cup debrief centred on concern over the diminishing number of strikers in the game, Gareth Southgate revealed, with academies across Europe known to be looking at the issue. Arsene Wenger, who led the talk in his role as lead of the governing body's technical study group, has long been especially concerned with the issue.

Southate currently faces a scarcity of players in that area, with Ivan Toney's eight-month suspension only increasing the dependence on Harry Kane. Among the only back-up players he currently has is Callum Wilson, who is 31. Southgate has also given consideration to Ollie Watkins, 27, although the Aston Villa forward was left out for the June Euro 2024 qualifiers away to Malta and at home to North Macedonia.

The advancing age of forwards was debated in the Fifa debrief, with the premium on the position set to dominate the summer transfer market. Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Chelsea are all looking for number-nines, with Napoli's Victor Osimhen leading a limited range of options. Tottenham Hotspur are meanwhile refusing to sell Harry Kane to an English club.

"Well, it actually came up," Southgate said of the issue. "We had a Fifa debrief and Wenger had it as a topic. We discussed the number-nine and where it is heading. Bar [Erling] Haaland perhaps, a lot of the top number-nines are slightly older players in Kane, [Robert] Lewandowski, [Romelu] Lukaku, [Karim] Benzema. An interesting thing.

"A lot of academy practices now can be possession-based games and don’t always involve a nine and create that way of playing. It’s something that is clearly being discussed across the world and not just in England.

"In terms of our group. Ollie Watkins, I didn’t mention him in the main press conference, but it was very close between him and Callum. Over the season, Callum’s performances have been just ahead.

“In this recent period of six, seven games, Ollie had a great period and then hasn’t scored for seven or eight games and then Callum has hit form just at the right time. Ollie was definitely one that was considered closely."