Is Man City striker Sergio Aguero the Premier League's last real No. 9?
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola had just been asked about Sergio Aguero's latest hat trick, against West Brom, only to offer some constructive criticism about how, really, it wasn't actually enough.
"It is not about how many goals he scores, because we're happy with the scoring," Guardiola said, before talking about how the Argentine must improve his game outside the box.
It was a remarkable statement about a forward as exceptional as Aguero, who almost every club in the world would want, but Guardiola's whole argument touches on a growing trend in the game. It is possible that the City striker could -- temporarily -- be the last of his kind. That is not just down to tactical trends, or the way forwards are being asked to defend from the front, to work on pressing as much as prolifically finishing. It is also down to how players are being produced.
The striker position is becoming one of the most transformed in the game, and it is possible Guardiola is actually reacting to changes without even realising it.
Many scouts and coaches say that club academies are no longer producing as many pure goal-scorers and finishers. The main type of attacking player being produced in England is a speedy hybrid between a winger and a wide forward, in the style of Antoine Griezmann or Theo Walcott. That is where so many young players want to play, and also the type of position that the traits of current coaching hone, due to the universalist nature of the drills.
One coach told ESPN FC that he had already noticed how more and more youth teams are resorting to playing those wingers up front. The issue is that this type of player doesn't usually have the specialist qualities of a striker, and isn't really an expert in finishing in the way someone like Aguero is. Criticism about players' one-on-one ability and finishing may become much more commonplace. In that sense, the much-debated strikerless or false No. 9 formation could also become more widely used, and not just because of particular tactical preferences.
You can see it in teams like Liverpool, the transfer market, and pretty much all levels of the game. It feels like there are fewer properly elite strikers than in recent decades. Euro 2016 top scorer Griezmann is almost an archetypal hybrid player, and deposed champions Spain have arguably missed a finisher like David Villa more than anyone else in the last few years, even heralding the trend by experimenting with Cesc Fabregas as a false No. 9 at Euro 2012.
It is a topic Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has long had strong opinions on and, despite the questions surrounding his own strikeforce, the French manager's argument on why this trend has taken place is persuasive. He has put it down to the sanitised nature of modern academy coaching, and how almost every player is a "universalist" in terms of their technical ability, rather being trained in specific aspects.
"There are a few reasons," Wenger told a news conference in the summer, picking up a theme he first raised in 2014. "One of the basic ones I believe is that, linked with centre-forwards, we develop less centre-backs in Europe because, before, the teams practiced in the park in bad pitches in winter. You had to lift the ball, had to go behind, and today the pitches are all perfect and in training, with only passing, we develop only midfielders now, because all the education is about passing on the ground on perfect pitches."
Asked whether the traditional No. 9 can make a comeback, Wenger said: "If we adapt in our education. Maybe we have to create specific schools for centre-forward."
That is why some clubs, such as Fulham, have done exactly that. They have looked into designing specialist sessions for finishers. Others are less reactive. At Barcelona, sources within their youth structure told ESPN FC that it is just the way the game is evolving, and that it is up to clubs to adapt and maximise this. The Catalan club are a particular important barometer in all of this, given that they remain at the forefront of coaching, and it is of course where Guardiola first experimented -- and excelled.
He was the manager to first move Leo Messi to a false nine position, arguably initiating this entire modern dynamic, and the struggles of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez in his sides can't be ignored.
And yet there is another irony here. Barcelona went out of their way to secure the signing of teenage Spanish striker Pablo Moreno, precisely because his skills are so distinctive, and because he combines old-fashioned scoring with old-fashioned aggression. Scouts have likened him to Luis Suarez, and he has been prolific for their underage teams, scoring well over two goals a game.
And that's the thing. No matter the coaching, there will always be outliers, those players that pop up by chance with a very distinctive range of abilities. That rarity makes them all the more prized but that's also the key. If they have a profound effect on their team, clubs and coaches will respond. They will seek to create these kinds of players, a push-and-pull dynamic that has created the current situation.
"We had to do all that in our time," former Arsenal striker Ian Wright told ESPN FC recently. "[Liverpool legend] Ian Rush was the master at it, and I had to do it too. We had to harry, and chase."
But they also had to score. Both Rush and Wright were ruthless strikers, equipped with a range of finishes and relentless accuracy that any attacking player would envy. The combination of these attributes might be something we see a little more of from strikers over the next few years -- until a new cycle comes around again -- as the expectation is that the men up front no longer just have responsibility for putting the ball in the back of the net.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.