The Golden Boot (or Golden Shoe as it is officially known, presumably to cater for U.S. audiences) in the World Cup is probably the second most prestigious individual award in football, second to the Ballon D’or. It’s the award for the top scorer and this year I expect it to be as highly contested as ever with the obvious contenders of Messi, Neymar etc. but also maybe some surprises. Here, I will take you through what it takes to win the Golden Boot and who has the best chance of doing so. I apologise for this not being thoroughly tactical however I hope it is still interesting.
How to pick the winner of the award.
Who will get far?
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the more games a player plays, the higher the chance of scoring more overall goals. Therefore, you need to look out for players that play for teams that will get far in the competition. For me, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany will be the semi-finalists so a player from one of those countries to claim the golden boot award is likely. Bosnia & Herzogovina have a proven goal poacher in Edin Dzeko but the best they can hope for is 2nd place behind Argentina in group F which would lead them to a probably exit against France in the last 16. Therefore, it is imperative that your choice for Golden Boot winner plays in a decent side as (at least one in event of a tie) every Golden Boot winner apart from one has been from a team that finished in the top four(the only one where this wasn’t the case was, you guessed it, English… Gary Lineker in 1986).
What sides score lots of goals?
If a team scores lots of goals, the law of averages suggests that one player in that team will end up with a significant amount himself. From Europe, the nations that scored most goals in qualifying were Germany (36) the Netherlands (34) . In South America, Argentina finished with the most goals (35 but from 16 games a opposed to 10 in Europe). From North+Central America, Costa Rica topped the charts with 27 from 16 games, from Asia, Japan averaged 2 per match at 16 goals from 8 and Algeria matched this from Africa with the same record. Therefore, Islam Slimani , Joel Campbell and the like, might be better bets than you may have first thought.
The least prolific sides in Europe were Greece and Croatia, both with 12 goals from 10 games. This isn’t a surprise from Greece who are famous for their dogged, defensive style most famously winning Euro 2004 with a re-birth of a Catenaccio-type system with a Libero (Sweeper). It is more of a surprise that Croatia with their superb creative midfield trio of Modric, Rakitic and Kranjcar, Bayern Munich forward Mandzukic and attacking full-back Srna scored so little goals. This could be because weaker teams feel threatened by them so sit back but i’m not 100% sure on this and would like anyone with any suggestions as to why this could be to comment. Ecuador scored the least of the South American sides with 20 from 16 games but this is fairly good compared to Mexico, who had the worst goalscoring record in the final qualifying phase with only 7 from 10 matches in a very poor Concacaf qualifying zone. I don’t think Javier Hernandez will repeat his performance from for years ago with two goals and top performances that earned him a move to Manchester United.
How will goals be spread out over a team?
Many people are backing Lionel Messi to stake his claim on being the best player ever with a fantastic performance in this world cup, probably picking up the golden boot along the way. I would be a fool to argue against this happening however it is important to recognise Argentina are a lot more than just a one man team. Say Argentina go all the way to the final (therefore playing 7 matches) and match their qualifying average of around 2.2 goals per game. This will mean they score 16 goals in the tournament. With other talented forwards such as Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain starting alongside Messi as well as other attacking talents such as Angel Di Maria, Ezequeil Lavezzi and Pablo Zabaleta bombing forward from right back, it is unlikely Messi will even get a third of these 16 goals. If Messi achieves a third, around 5 goals, this would only be enough to achieve the Golden Boot outright in 1 of the 19 World Cups to date, 5 has been enough for the golden boot on three occasions. Despite this, two of the three world cups where the Golden Boot winner has scored 5 goals have been the most recent two World Cups. This idea could also be argued with Neymar and the other goalscoring influences in the Brazil team such as Fred, Hulk and Oscar. I would say this is less relevant with Neymar and Brazil however as Neymar has scored 30 Brazil goals since the last World Cup , second on the list is Fred with only twelve. Also, it is unlikely a Spanish player will win the Golden Boot. Since the last World Cup, David Villa is Spain’s top scorer with 14 but he is closely followed by Pedro with 13 (who scores so many by taking advantage of space created by a false 9, normally Fabregas), David Silva with 13 and Fernando Torres with 12. The best place to put your money on this front is probably Cristiano Ronaldo who carries Portugal to a greater extent than any other player with any other team at this World Cup. Their only other goalscoring option is Helder Postiga but he has suffered a very poor season with only 3 goals in 20 games (3 in 15 for Valencia before going on loan to Lazio where he scored 0 from 5).
Does it even have to be a Striker?
You could argue that a lot of the contenders for the golden boot aren’t even out-and-out strikers. Probably the three biggest contenders; Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, will all be playing on either the left (Neymar and Ronaldo) or the right (Messi) of a front three. Here, they are expected to score many goals cutting in and shooting from distance, finding the halfspace between the centre-back and the full back, and arriving at the back post to slot in. At the last world cup, Thomas Muller won the award with 5 goals predominantly playing at right wing in a 4-2-3-1. Wesley Sneijder matched his 5 goals for Holland playing behind the Striker in a 4-2-3-1. Yaya Toure scored an incredible amount of goals this season for Manchester City however I find it unlikely that any midfield player will replicate this in the World Cup as international football is played at a slower pace than the Premier League and the heat(and humidity in equatorial regions) will compound to this to slow the game further. Also, with 4-2-3-1 very likely to be the most frequently used formation at the World Cup, the two holding midfielders in this system (if they are disciplined) make it difficult for central midfielders to shoot from the edge of the 18-yard area. It’s more than likely the Golden Boot winner will be a player from a front 1,2 or 3, not midfield.
I have already briefly mentioned that conditions could play a part in determining what type of player thrives in the tournament. Temperatures will reach up to 26 degrees celsius (79F) in Rio, and will be slightly higher the further north you go. My English readers will also know (as it has been drummed into our ears since the draw was announced in December) that in Manaus as well as other northerly regions such as Fortazela, Natal and Recife, humidity will be a big factor and quarterly drinks breaks will have to be taken. This means player’s energy is soaked up so the game loses it’s pace. In the Brazilian league in the 2013 season, the top three scorers were Ederson, Dinei and Gilberto who notched up 58 goals between them. None of these forwards are particularly pacy and don’t really rely on quick acceleration to get in behind the opposition defence to score goals. This means that players such as Fred, Lukaku and Giroud could benefit as crossing may become a big factor when defences drop off as it was in the first match between Brazil and Croatia where these types of strikers can use their physical presence to score headers, poach a goal from a loose ball, or drop into the midfield to try to play one-twos. There were 45 crosses in the opening match and 47 in the second match between Mexico and Cameroon. The conditions could also suit sides with a short passing game (you know who) as opposed to a dynamic, counter-attacking game like Germany used so effectively at the last world cup. Diego Costa plays for a side that suit the conditions and also has that physical presence which may prove vital in around the 6 yard area. The conditions certainly benefits Costa’s chances of winning the award. Despite this, in 4 South American World Cups, no European has been top scorer outright.
Here, I took the bookies’ top 20 favourites for the Golden Boot and rated their chances on several categories, including the ones I have mentioned above. I based the ‘Form’ category on the whole of the 2013/14 season. ‘How Far Will Their Team Go?’ is scored according to the round they will finish in, with 5 being the Final, 4 being the Semis and so on. Here are the results:
So, Neymar (already with two goals), and Cristiano Ronaldo topped the charts. This is due to Neymar being in a great side, in his home conditions as well as his natural goalscoring flair. Cristiano Ronaldo is up there because of his sensational form this season, probably his best yet, in which he won the Ballon D’or, Copa Del Rey and Champions League. Also, Portugal’s reliance on him means he will score maybe more than 2/3 of their goals. Diego Costa finished high, also because of his form this season. Sturridge and Dzeko scored highly which was surprising but Sturridge is certainly England’s most in-form play this season and Dzeko’s excellent last few months of the season for City along with his vital role in the Bosnia team meant he did so well.
Lower than expected is last tournament’s top scorer Thomas Muller, who is unlikely to repeat his exploits from four years ago. Also, Cavani isn’t very high despite being a top striker. This is largely due to it being unlikely that Uruguay will get far in the competition, they may not even qualify from the very tough group D where they will face Italy, England and Costa Rica.
The Verdict: Neymar for me. It’s his year. 33 Goals in 50 games is an incredible international record and I expect Brazil to win the tournament, so he is the obvious choice. The dark horse for the award could be Alexis Sanchez who scored 19 in 27 in the season just gone for Barcelona, has already scored one in the tournament, and Chile could actually finish above Spain to qualify for the knockout stages.