A-League strikers chasing old records

The Hyundai A-League can boast some spectacular attacking talent but they’ve all still got some way to go to match the NSL’s best strikers.

The much-heralded arrival of world class strikers Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey set the scene for goals galore in season eight of the Hyundai A-League, after another goalscoring import Besart Berisha exploded on to the scene in 2011/12.

And with three goals in Del Piero’s first four games, and four from four for Heskey, it seemed the attacking reputations were paying dividends for the big investments made by Sydney FC and the Jets early in the 2012/13 campaign.

These early signs pointed to Berisha’s A-League record of 21 goals last season being threatened.

But what will it take over the course of their Australian careers to say that Del Piero, Heskey and Berisha have truly matched it with Australia’s best strikers over the past 35 years of national league football?

Australia’s first National Soccer League (NSL) goal king was someone still quite prominent in the A-League scene, Adelaide United coach John Kosmina.

Adelaide born and bred, Kosmina became the first player to score 100 Australian national league goals, which took him 194 games to reach, a strike rate of 0.52 goals per game.

Kossie was the NSL’s highest scorer in 1982 with 23 goals, a record that stood for another 14 years.

Kosmina also scored the NSL’s very first goal, for West Adelaide against Canberra City in April 1977.

Some other familiar faces that took out national league season scoring honours in the 1980s and 1990s included Graham Arnold, with 17 goals for Sydney Croatia in 1986, and Frank Farina, top scorer in 1987 and 1988 with Marconi.

But the player who ended up completely rewriting the NSL goalscoring record books was one Damian Mori.

Melbourne-born Mori scored a hefty 225 goals in his NSL career, and notched another 15 in the A-League before ending his national league playing days in 2007.

He was the NSL’s top goalscorer five times, including a record 31-goal haul in 1995/96.

Mori’s tally of 240 Australian national league goals is incredible when you realise how far in front of the second-placed all-time scorer it is – more than 100 ahead of Rod Brown’s 137 goals.

In fact, Mori’s 240 goals is not too far off the amount scored by second-placed Brown (137) and third-placed Kosmina (133) combined.

You can’t imagine Mori’s total goals record being broken in the foreseeable future, if at all. Of all current players, Archie Thompson is Australia’s leading all-time scorer with “just” 102 career goals.

After starting his playing career in more a defensive position – it took 60 matches to score his first 10 goals – Mori ended up with a career strike rate above the magic 0.5, or more than one goal every two games.

With Adelaide City (1992 to 2000) Mori’s strike rate was 0.59, a ratio that got even higher after moving to Perth Glory, where he averaged 0.65 goals per game from 2000 to 2006.

Australia’s most economical national league goalscorer was Melbourne boy Mark Viduka, who scored 40 goals in 48 NSL games with Melbourne Croatia from 1993 to 1995, an Australian career strike rate of 0.83.

Viduka’s scoring effort over two NSL seasons was remarkable considering he did it all before his 20s.

Considering other players who made more than 20 Australian national league appearances, the next highest career strike rates were achieved by Zeljko Adzic, with 0.63 goals per game, followed by Ben Burgess, with 0.59 per game.

Croatian scoring machine Adzic was brought to Australia by Melbourne Croatia for two seasons in the late 1980s, while Englishman Burgess spent 2000/01 at Northern Spirit.

It will be interesting to assess how the strike rates of modern-day imports Berisha, Del Piero and Heskey end up ranking when their Australian national league careers finish up – which hopefully won’t be for a long while yet.

Leading into Round 12, Berisha is actually tracking among the league’s all-time highest strike rates, with 26 goals in 39 appearances, or 0.67 goals per game – not too far from Viduka’s all-time record.

But after promising early signs for Del Piero and Heskey, the goals dried up for two players who came to Australia with renowned scoring feats in some of the world’s biggest leagues.

Is it too early to conclude the A-League’s two biggest signings of 2012/13 will be forgotten in annals of Australia’s national league history in years to come?

And if its goals the clubs want, shouldn’t they instead focus on developing the next John Kosmina, Damian Mori or Mark Viduka?

Follow Andrew Howe-s Aussie football stats updates on Twitter @AndyHowe_statto