Davor Šuker was one of 90’s football’s most prolific and feared strikers. His time at Arsenal was short lived and did not reflect his true talent but, I think he deserves a mention.
Starting his career with his hometown club, NK Osijek, he scored an impressive 40 goals in 91 appearances, attracting interest from one of the biggest clubs in what is now modern-day Croatia.
Dinamo Zagreb snapped him up and he bagged 34 goals in 60 games during his time at the Stadion Maksimir, from 1989-1991.
This form earned Šuker a move to Spanish side Sevilla, where he became even more prolific. With the Andalusians, he scored 90 times on 177 games. Despite finding the back of the net just 9 and 13 times in his first couple of seasons, he scored 20 plus in his remaining three, including 27 goals in 41 games during the 1993/94 campaign.
As is always the case in Spanish football, it was only a matter of time before Real Madrid or Barcelona came calling.
In 1996, Real forked out just over £9 million to bring Šuker to the Bernabéu.
He had a successful spell with Los Blancos, finding the back of the net 49 times in just 106 appearances, winning the Supercopa de Espana and La Liga in 1997. He finished the league season with 24 goals, including three hat-tricks and 29 goals across all competitions. Alongside Predrag Mijatović, he formed one of the most feared strike partnerships in football.
A brilliant first season was followed by a below average second, with Šuker scoring 15 goals across all competitions and only 10 in La Liga. The Croatian did, however, manage to add to his collection of winners medals, as Real won the Intercontinental Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Despite a poor season by his standards, he shone at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. With six goals in just seven games, Šuker led Croatia to the semi-finals and a shock third-placed finished, in what was their first tournament as an independent nation, also finishing as the top scorer.
His performances earned him the Silver Ball for the second best player at the tournament, behind the original Ronaldo. He also came in second for 1998 Balon d’Or behind Zinedine Zidane.
Šuker scored 45 goals in just 69 games for his country, and is still Croatia’s all-time leading scorer ahead of former Gunner Eduardo da Silva, who I’m sure will get his own place in the Arsenal Scrapbook in the near future.
It was hoped that his performances in France that summer would revitalise his Real career but, he was now the wrong side of 30 and it only got worse for the Croat.
Just five goals in 26 appearances, Šuker’s worst total since his first year as a professional, saw his time in the Spanish capital come to an end, with Arsenal paying £4.5 million to bring him to Highbury in the summer of 1999.
His time in Spain and his performances on the international stage filled the Arsenal faithful with hope.
Šuker had been considered one of the best forwards in the world throughout the decade.
Many strikers are considered to be good at one aspect of forward play, either using their pace to get in behind or operate as a target man, but, he had it all.
With an eye for scoring sublime goals, he was also a penalty box poacher when required. With quick feet and good close control, he was equally capable of turning defenders inside out as he was plucking the ball out of the sky.
If you’ve never seen what he was capable of and don’t believe me, watch this, trust me.
It was hoped that a fresh start in new surroundings would see him return to his former prolific self.
Nicholas Anelka had moved in the opposite direction to Šuker, leaving Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu as his only rivals for a starting spot in Arsene Wenger’s team but, just over a month after Šuker moved to North London, a young Frenchman by the name of Thierry Henry joined from Monaco.
The trio were often preferred to Šuker and he made only 15 starts in the 1999/2000 season, appearing from the bench on 24 occasions.
Despite this, he managed to score 10 goals when in the starting XI but only one from the bench, showing glimpses of the sublime talent that made him so feared in Spain. He managed three braces, including a double on his debut against Aston Villa. His best goal in an Arsenal shirt was undoubtedly his looping left-footed, half-volley against Sunderland in front of the Clock End, which you can watch below.
He did however, miss a penalty in the shootout defeat to Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.
Šuker left after just one season, limited opportunities and no trophies in North London, moving across the capital to join West Ham United, spending 17 months with Hammers before joining German side 1860 Munich, eventually retiring from the game in 2003.
The Croatian may not have been a Gunner’s legend but, he did okay during his one season. He may not have been the devastating forward he was at Sevilla or Real but, I think he must be appreciated because of how good he really was.
He was a special player who I believe is underrated and doesn’t not get the credit today that he deserves, so Davor consider this a tribute, consider this your credit.