Next Generation – Isak breaking free of Zlatan comparisons as he proves Dortmund wrong

By Sports Desk May 08, 2020

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.

April 7, 2016 could potentially be looked back upon as an iconic date for Swedish football in future – Ostersunds were beginning their first-ever Allsvenskan campaign at home to AIK, who started a strike partnership with a combined age of just 35.

As the haunting and ominous intro of AC/DC's 1980 classic 'Hells Bells' rang out around the Jamtkraft Arena, AIK's Alexander Isak – 16 at the time – took his first steps into fiery world of top-flight football, an often ruthless and brutal realm.

But, as Isak later recounted, the nerves were not really there and he took to his new reality with startling ease, scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win with a delicate first-time finish from a right-wing cross to make him AIK's youngest league goalscorer in history.

By the following January, having seemingly had every major club in Europe clamouring for the 'next Zlatan Ibrahimovic', Isak was a full Sweden international and joined Borussia Dortmund in a deal supposedly worth up to €10million.

But a little more than three years on, here he is, in the comparatively unfashionable surroundings of Real Sociedad. One might ask where it went wrong for him, but the evidence suggests it will be Dortmund left to rue their parting.

'A very determined young man'

Isak played just five Bundesliga matches – including a solitary start – for Dortmund in two years with the club. Although upheaval and the club's frequent changes of coach around that time will not have helped, it looked a mighty fall for a talent who had previously been a desire of Real Madrid, particularly when he joined middling Eredivisie side Willem II on loan in January 2019.

But for Janne Andersson, Sweden coach and the man who gave Isak his international debut, it is the striker's mentality that stands out – he was not going to let those struggles at Dortmund define him.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Andersson said: "He has a unique talent but also works very hard and is a very determined young man.

"We have to remember that Alexander is still a young player and I hope that he can improve in a lot of ways, and knowing Alexander, I'm certain that he will continue to improve."

It turned out to be a move that reinvigorated the teenager's career, as he scored 13 goals in 16 league matches, including a run of 12 in his first 12 outings. Romario, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Luis Suarez – none managed such a feat during their formative years in the Eredivisie.

Although Dortmund failed to see that form as reason to keep hold of him, their loss has been La Real's gain – the Spanish side reportedly acquired him in a deal that will cost them a maximum of €7.5m.

Back in black (and yellow)? Don't count on it

To say that purchase has already been a success would be an understatement. In 34 games across all competitions, Isak has 14 goals split evenly between LaLiga – in which La Real are fourth – and the Copa del Rey, a competition the Basques have reached the final of.

His seven-goal haul in LaLiga may not lead to gasps of disbelief, but it is a solid record for someone with just nine starts to his name. Similarly, the fact no player in the division has been used as a substitute on more occasions highlights coach Imanol Alguacil's belief in him to make an impact.

Coincidentally, it was against the club that tried so hard to sign him – Madrid – that he produced his most devastating performance for La Real in February. Although the display contained some wastefulness one might expect of a young player, he wreaked havoc on Los Blancos' defence at the Santiago Bernabeu.

An acrobatic strike was soon followed by an emphatic near-post effort in a quickfire brace early in the second half, while it was his shot that rebounded back to Martin Odegaard for the opener and he later produced a wonderful assist for La Real's fourth in the 4-3 win.

Dortmund managed to retain a buy-back clause when selling Isak – but they should not expect him to agree to any return. "All I can say is, Dortmund is in my past and not in my future," he told Sportbladet earlier this year.

Shaking off the Zlatan comparisons

Agile despite his height, a Swedish striker and blessed with wonderful technique, it is easy to see how he came to be tagged as the 'next Zlatan', but they are significantly different in reality.

Isak is much more likely to drift out wide or look to race on to passes behind a defence than Ibrahimovic has ever done, while their personalities could not be more different – the former's persistent "no comment" responses to questions about the comparison in a 2016 interview with Cafe evidence of his rather more reserved nature.

Of course, on the pitch Isak has a long way to go to reach Ibrahimovic's level, but his early strides in LaLiga have been positive. With seven goals and one assist from 1,055 minutes of action, he is averaging a goal involvement every 132 minutes, better than one every two games.

His conversion rate of 21 per cent is promising as well, putting him within touching distance of the top five in that metric (of players with at least seven goals).

Isak has also recorded a solid number of shots on target (16), given he is often used out wide and from the bench. Lionel Messi (55) leads the way in that regard, but Chimy Avila – who has the fifth-most – has 28 from double the amount of starts as the Swedish forward.

Andersson has taken note of Isak's early progress and applauded his professionalism when playing – his maturity already a common source of praise during his fledgling career.

"For such a young player, he has a mature way of playing the game," Andersson added. "He is a very intelligent footballer that acts like a seasoned pro on the pitch. He has improved a lot this past season and I hope he still has more in him."

After breaking free of the wearisome Ibrahimovic comparisons, Isak is establishing himself as a star in his own right.

Related items

  • Ibrahimovic injured in Milan training session Ibrahimovic injured in Milan training session

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered a potentially major injury in training with Milan on Monday.

    The former Sweden striker hurt the lower area of his calf during a training match, Stats Perform News understands.

    Reports in the Italian media suggest a scan could reveal it to be a serious problem to his Achilles.

    Ibrahimovic, 38, joined Milan as a free agent in December, agreeing a contract until the end of the season.

    He scored three goals in eight Serie A appearances before the coronavirus pandemic caused the league to be suspended in March.

    His second stint at Milan has looked likely to be Ibrahimovic's final crack at the big time after a stellar career.

    Bologna boss Sinisa Mihajlovic recently said that, after speaking to Ibrahimovic, he expected him to leave Milan at the end of the season.

    After starting his career at Malmo, he moved on for spells with Ajax, Juventus, Inter and Barcelona.

    His first spell at Milan began in August 2010 and lasted two years before Paris Saint-Germain called.

    Four successful years at PSG were followed by two seasons at Manchester United. After a 20-month spell at LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic returned to San Siro.

  • First impressions are wrong half the time - Body-shaming athletes a poor start First impressions are wrong half the time - Body-shaming athletes a poor start

    When I told my friend I was dedicating this blog to footballers like him, right off the bat he knew what I meant. Fat footballers.

    Generally, fat means sluggish, lazy, slow and unskilled. Well, he’s no stranger to hearing these stereotypes. And he’s no stranger to overcoming them either.

    For about 11 years his weight overshadowed small wins like going to four finals, receiving two medals and playing for Ardenne Prep, Jamaica College, Greater Portmore, Naggo Head and Duhaney Park.

    “There was this one time when I went to a match and the opposing coach explained to his players that the right side of the field is the weaker side because there is a big fat boy on there— and there’s no way that this big fat boy can contain any of the players.”

    Sportsmen and women are seen as the best physical specimens because they perform feats many of us can only dream of. Being overweight pokes holes into that ideal with the reaction from fans and even those inside sports like coaches and managers being to misjudge a player’s value and ability.

    “I played numerous positions— forward, midfielder, defender. I enjoyed the defending position most. I engaged in tackles and used my brain to contain quick and skilful players. We had to set up different walls to contain corner and free kicks. It was like guiding a ship!”

    Despite possessing obvious ability, my friend’s body-shaming continued unabated. Body shaming is criticizing or drawing attention to someone’s shape, size or appearance.

    Teammates, players’ parents— it came from all directions. The taunting was overbearing. “Some of the people who body-shamed me were parents, coaches, players, teammates and friends. When I was in prep school, a player’s parent expressed that she doesn’t understand why her son is sitting on the bench when there is a fat boy on the field. She wondered what I had over her son.”

    “Another example is in high school, a coach was giving out letters for summer training. He said to me that he doesn’t allow fat players on his team and the only way I’d get a letter was if I did something about my weight.

    “I asked him if he did anything about it (his weight). He explained that he has always been on the chubbier side. He’s naturally big and so is his family. He then started to tell me how diets and portion control never work for him.

    “To put him out of his misery, I asked if there was an upside to the misconceptions others had of him. I’ve definitely changed some minds. It was the beginning of the football season when all my teammates were talking about who was going to be captain. My coach didn’t announce the captain until minutes before the match. While spectators waited outside the dressing room for us, my coach turned to me and gave me the captain’s armband and told me that I’ll be leading the team for the rest of the season.

    “I didn’t put on my armband before walking out of the dressing room but I led my team out. Usually, the captain leads the team to the game. I could hear spectators asking if I was the captain or not. As I approached the field I asked my fellow teammate to put the armband around my left arm to show the spectators, the rest of the team and the opposing team who was the actual captain.

    “The coach saw me play the year before and knew I was capable.”

    I wanted our discussion to end on a happy note. Still, I asked him if body shaming affected him in any way. He said ‘no.’

    I wasn’t convinced because he remembered the remarks to a ‘t’; as if they were freshly said. I figured they lingered.

    I didn’t bother to tell him that part because I’d rather tell you guys this:

    Please be kinder to players who look like my friend. In no way is body shaming okay.

    Rahkeem Cornwall debuted for the West Indies on August 30, 2019, against India.

    Cornwall does not look like the average cricketer, lean and powerful, light on his or her feet, yet, in just his second match, against Afghanistan in Lucknow, he was the region’s best bowler, grabbing 7-75 and 3-46.

    He also showed in the CPL that he is a dangerous batsman when he gets going and can take a game away from a team with his batting and bowling. At the first-class level, Cornwall has already taken over 300 wickets in just 62 games.

    From Jimbo’s example, maybe there’s something to be said about staying your judgements.

    Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

  • Lyon appoint Bruno Cheyrou to help Juninho and Houllier Lyon appoint Bruno Cheyrou to help Juninho and Houllier

    Bruno Cheyrou has reunited with his former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier after being named head of recruitment at Lyon.

    Cheyrou left his post as sporting director of Paris Saint-Germain's women's team earlier this month, clearing the way for Monday's appointment.

    Lyon said Cheyrou has "a recognised reputation" and revealed he had previously "casually suggested" to the club the signing of Memphis Depay, who has been a major success at the Ligue 1 club since joining from Manchester United in January 2017.

    In a statement announcing Cheyrou's arrival, Lyon pointed to the three-cap former France player's previous connection to 72-year-old Houllier, who is a special adviser to Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas.

    Lyon said Cheyrou "will support [sporting director] Juninho and Gerard Houllier on this new mission for OL".

    The Houllier connection goes back 18 years, with the then Liverpool boss having compared his new signing to Zinedine Zidane when Cheyrou arrived at Anfield in 2002.

    Rather than blossom into a playmaker comparable to the France great, Cheyrou spent just two years as part of the first-team squad at Anfield, falling out of favour when Houllier left in 2004 and being sent on loan to Marseille and then Bordeaux.

    He made a permanent move to Rennes in 2006, finishing his playing career at Nantes in 2012.

     

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.