The number nine on the back of a football shirt is arguably the most significant. While the No.10 is perhaps the most emblematic, it doesn’t represent the innate instincts within every individual: that surging desire to score a goal.
AC Milan, a decorated football club with a rich history of centre-forwards, had experienced an apathetic drought for a decade in terms of silverware. The wait for a competent No.9 lasted even longer, finally met by one of French football’s most prolific strikers, Olivier Giroud.
Few can claim to have won it all. Well, Giroud comes very, very close to being one of those players. From the World Cup to the Champions League, Ligue 1 to most recently the Scudetto, Giroud’s hands have raised silverware in all colours he adorned.
He skyrocketed to prominence when he became Ligue 1’s top scorer in Montpellier’s historic title-winning season in 2011-12. Arsenal came knocking right after, and Giroud became a Gunner.
Giroud proceeded to build a respectable, if not enviable resume in England. He may never be counted in the absolute echelon of superstar forwards who struck the turf in England but created a niche for himself nevertheless, collecting honours and building a quietly impressive trophy cabinet.
He then arrived at Milan last season to aid a rapidly ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic up-front. Following an inconsistent spell plagued by injuries, Giroud accepted the mantle of Milan’s primary centre forward, playing half the season as the bonafide starter.
The former Arsenal and Chelsea man clocked 11 goals in 1900 minutes, averaging a goal every 180 minutes, a reasonable return given his age and the costs involved.
After securing his first hat-trick in Milan colours this weekend, Giroud tied his domestic goal tally from 2021-22 having played about 1968 minutes of football. In addition to these goals, Giroud has elevated his form in Europe as well.
Brought in last summer to inject experience into a naive, young squad, Giroud surprisingly fired blanks in the Champions League, which propelled Milan’s hasty exit from the competition.
This campaign witnessed the clinical best of Giroud, as he recorded five goals and two assists in 12 games, the bulk of which facilitated Milan’s progression from the group.
Despite being four months shy of 37, Giroud continues to offer mechanical consistency. But is that sufficient?
His pirouette and brace against Inter on 5 February 2022 set Milan’s destiny in motion. He also broke ‘the curse of the No.9‘ at Milan, becoming the first player to wear that number and score over ten league goals since Filippo Inzaghi in 2008-09.
The Grenoble-born striker can celebrate having repeated this feat in consecutive seasons for the Rossoneri. Commendable it may be, this is unfortunately inadequate for a club seeking to ascend Europe’s steep football pyramid.
In his post-match comments this weekend, Milan’s head coach Stefano Pioli commented on the need for Milan to sign a ‘strong striker’ in the summer. The timing couldn’t have been more telling; his leading man had just completed a hat-trick. Yet, the words are resoundingly honest.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) May 20, 2023
Milan reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in Giroud’s second season at the club and won the Scudetto in his first season.
However, the club requires a centre-forward that scores closer to 20 goals in the league, an output double of Giroud’s current productivity. Only Victor Osimhen and Lautaro Martinez have breached this mark in Serie A this season, representing the calibre of player Milan undoubtedly covet.
Giroud finds himself as the ninth-highest in the goalscorer charts, a sharp contrast to the accolades earned. The firepower provided in the group stages aside, his solitary goal over six games of knockout football in Europe was a tap-in against Napoli after missing a penalty, highlighting the veteran hitman’s inadequacies at the highest level of the sport.
Giroud will continue to be pivotal at Milan, his contributions celebrated for many years to come. Cognisant of his stiffening legs, Milan are actively working towards reducing the burden on his shoulders. A younger, dynamic striker is expected to arrive in 2023-24. The torch will pass on, but the legacy will live on.