FT Baseline Robin van Persie and Daniel Sturridge: the danger of relying on injury-prone players for goals

By John Burn-Murdoch and Gavin Jackson

Last week we looked at the top goalscorers in modern European football, focusing on the importance of remaining injury free for those who go on to become true greats.

This time around we’re taking a different view of the same data to tell another side to the story: the important distinction between a clinical finisher and a reliable source of goals.

Take two examples: Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and former Real Madrid forward Raul.

Since van Persie’s senior career took off, he has averaged more than one non-penalty goal every two games — elite figures. And his performances in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons saw him surpass the 20 non-penalty goal mark for two successive campaigns.

Manchester United fans — and doubtless David Moyes — were expecting more of the same in 2013-14, but the Dutchman’s tallies since then have fallen well short, as his notorious susceptibility to injuries returned from dormancy.

In terms of being a lethal striker, Raul’s scoring rate of 0.45 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes played is good, but well short of van Persie’s. But the Spaniard’s ability to turn up week in, week out has seen him produce an average of 22 non-penalty goals per season, compared to just 12 for van Persie.

The Spaniard was on the pitch for more than 80 per cent of his sides’ total match minutes on eight occasions between the ages of 20 and 32. The Dutchman? Only once.