The debate in CONCACAF circles about whether Canada star Alphonso Davies, the U.S. attacker Christian Pulisic, Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas or Mexico striker Raul Jimenez is currently the region's top men's player is actually more interesting than these types of banal back and forths -- see the Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo arguments over the last decade -- tend to be.
Each player has his merits, but none can claim to have as much influence on their club side as Jimenez has had at Wolverhampton Wanderers this past season.
Jimenez's importance to Wolves
A missed penalty in a 1-0 loss to Sevilla in the quarterfinal of the Europa League wasn't the way Jimenez would've wanted to wrap the extended 2019-20 season. It was only the fourth penalty he's failed to convert in 29 attempts during his career, but putting the bitter ending aside, Jimenez contributed to 23 (17 goals plus six assists) of the team's 51 Premier League goals over the season, or a remarkable 45%.
"All the things he does for the team -- the work, the goals, the talent he has is amazing," said Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo after the loss to Sevilla. "Raul is a fantastic player."
The Mexican's goal haul placed him in eighth position for goals scored in the Premier League with a goal every 190 minutes (his Expected Goals (xG) was exactly a goal every two games), while he was third for shots on target (44) and joint top for headed goals (five).
Aside from the six assists, the 1.33 chances created (key passes plus assists) per 90 minutes also highlights the rounded, multi-faceted nature of Jimenez's game.
"He's not a traditional No. 9 that is static and waiting," said former Bolton Wanderers striker and ESPN analyst Jared Borgetti. "He likes to drift outside [the penalty area], he likes to participate in the offensive transition. He's not someone who is obsessed with the goal, he's a player that helps the team play better and others to score as well. Defensively, he cooperates and that's why the coach and the people in the team praise him; he's not only there in the good times, he also works."
No Premier League striker -- or indeed any attacking player -- played more than his 3,244 minutes over the season. And that came despite Jimenez having little rest due to him playing in Mexico's 2019 Gold Cup victory last summer, followed swiftly by Europa League qualifying, plus trips to the U.S. in September, and then Panama and Mexico in November for El Tri's CONCACAF Nations League games.
Three yellow cards -- or one every 1,000+ minutes -- all season may not stand out as particularly remarkable, but it is low for a player that defends from the front and at defensive set pieces - 0.7 headed clearances per 90 minutes highlights his direct involvement there.
Remarkable turnaround in one season
"After you arrive [in the Premier League] and everything goes well, and nobody knows you and you surprise, it's really big," said Borgetti on Jimenez. "But then comes the next season, in which they focus more on you, know how you move, you're playing style, how they can do you damage.
The former Bolton player considers Jimenez's efforts this past season on surpassing his 2018-19 output "worthy of applause" and an indication of the 29-year-old's drive to better himself.
The numbers certainly suggest Jimenez has improved from 2018-19 to 2019-20, too. His chances created went up from 42 to 48; goals from 13 to 17; shots on target from 35 to 44, while only his assists went down from seven to six, although Expected Assists (xA) improved from 3.99 to 5.13.
'El Lobo' takes throne from 'Chicharito'
The overhead kick Jimenez netted back on Oct. 10, 2013 for Mexico against was one of the best goals Estadio Azteca has ever seen and was a lifeline for El Tri's chances of making the 2014 World Cup. The first player to run up to celebrate with Jimenez was Javier Hernandez, the striker who was the figurehead for Mexican football in Europe for the vast majority of the 2010s.
It's taken a long time for Jimenez to establish himself as a starter with Mexico and replace Hernandez, but the Tepeji del Rio native has firmly snatched that mantle, even if "Chicharito" hates the comparisons and believes his El Tri teammate should be pushed even further.
It wasn't lost on any of the Mexican media that Jimenez's 17 goals is a record for a Mexico international in the Premier League, overtaking Hernandez's 13 in 2010-11 and putting into perspective, once again, how good this season has been.
Bigger clubs calling on Jimenez?
There seem to be very few outside of Wolves that want Jimenez to stay on, as harsh as that sounds given how much the club has resurrected his career.
"Hopefully [a move] happens because I don't think Raul is going to achieve more than he has this season at that team, more so if they don't strengthen and with Wolves not being in European competitions," was Mexico legend and ESPN pundit Hugo Sanchez's take.
Sanchez encouraged Jimenez to go as far as pushing a move through, with the likes of Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid all mentioned in reports over recent months.
It's intriguing to dream about what Jimenez's numbers would look like if he was playing regularly for a team that did have increased attacking output and created more chances -- Wolves had only 48.1% possession per game on average in the Premier League and were 11th in chances created (339).
"He has the quality to be the starting forward for any team and he should be playing in a better team than Wolverhampton," Chile legend Ivan "Bam-bam" Zamorano stated on TUDN in April. "If Real Madrid wants him, he should not say no to that offer, you can't say no to one of the most important teams in the world."
"Raul should be playing in the Champions League and be scoring many goals," continued Zamorano. "I think that Karim Benzema is a great footballer, but Raul is as good or even better than the French striker."
The counter question regarding Jimenez's future is: to what extent have his performances, consistency and numbers been down to Espirito Santo's system and the way in which it's geared to helping him succeed? To find out the answer, one of the elite band of clubs capable of affording him will need to persuade Wolves to part ways with a player that has become one of the Premier League's transfer success stories over the last two seasons.