July 24, 2017

Alexander Isak: Juvenile Virtuoso

How good is the young Dortmund striker?


It’s always been obvious that Alexander Isak had talent. Born to Eritrean parents in Solna (Stockholm), Isak began his footballing odyssey at his local club AIK, at the age of 6. At the ripe age of 16, young Isak was handed his first-team debut in a domestic cup game against Tenhults IF. Almost instantaneously after, he was included in Andreas Alm’s starting XI for the MD2 fixture against Östersunds FK, a game he scored in, crowning him AIK’s youngest ever Allsvenskan scorer at just 16 years, 199 days.

The 3rd of May 2016: the day Alexander Isak signed his first professional contract with AIK through to 2018, but by then, Europe’s elite were already lurking. A reported 90 scouts from all over Europe attentively observed Isak ply his trade against IFK Goteborg and the rumours began to fly. European champions Real Madrid were, unsurprisingly, one of the plethora of interested parties and seemingly had a transfer for the lazily labelled “new Ibrahimovic” wrapped up, when outlets in his native Sweden began to report that German giants Borussia Dortmund had hijacked a move for the youngster. The move was later confirmed by Dortmund on the January 23 2017.

Young Isak’s abrupt transfer had Dortmund fans reeling with excitement, but slight controversy among the club board overshadowed the arrival of one of Europe’s most promising no.9’s. Coach at the time, Thomas Tuchel came out and stated that he was made aware of the transfer very late and that he didn’t know who young Isak really was, saying “I didn’t know the player before, but it’s also not my job to know every 17-year-old”. This episode added to the already-strong doubt regarding Tuchel’s long term future at the club, where he intermittently named Isak on the bench and gave him a mere four minutes of playing time in the second half of the season.

The season concluded with a DFB-Pokal triumph and as expected, BVB parted ways with Tuchel shortly after. In June 2017, Dutchman Peter Bosz was announced as the new head coach of Dortmund after just one season with Ajax. This news will most definitely have been received well by Isak as it presented the opportunity of a fresh start under a coach notorious for developing young talent. With Dortmund currently in preseason, we have already seen Isak benefit from the willingness of Peter Bosz as he has fruitfully featured in all three friendlies that the black-and-yellows have taken part in thus far.

Standing at 1.9m, the young striker moulds his game around his tall frame. He shows capability with his back to goal and in link-up by offering himself as a wall for his teammates to play off of, allowing simple one-two’s that break the opposing press and carve out promising opportunities for progression further up the centre of the pitch or down the flanks. This hold-up style is aided by his natural power. Appearing quite skinny, the young Swede is deceptively strong and uses this to shield the ball from defenders, enabling nifty layoffs and through balls to onrushing and overlapping teammates. His height, strength and aerial prowess also make him deployable as a target man.

Once he has deposited the ball off to a teammate, he utilizes his excellent spatial awareness and movement to either make smart decoy runs that open up lanes for his teammates, or to get into scoring positions himself. Nimble positioning in and around the box allow him to be a considerable threat to goal more often than not. He is a strong finisher and is more than comfortable on the ground or with his head. He also has a habit of occasionally drifting out wide, where he displays surprisingly clean close control and speed considering his stature. The 17-year-old is a refreshing hybrid of the old fashioned, “final touch” no.9 and the modern, ball carrying centre-forward. A style very similar to his current mentor, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

He has enormous potential. I do not want to say too much, but he is extraordinary. He can become the new Zlatan Ibrahimović. I hope he continues to keep his cool and keep working. Then he can go far.

Chinedu Obasi

Peter Bosz’s system requires a striker that is proficient in confidently holding up play, distributing quick, piston-like passes and being available as an option whenever possible, a role Kasper Dolberg so efficiently carried out under Bosz. Three games in to pre-season, we are without any indication that Peter Bosz wishes to stray from this model, and with Isak comfortably meeting the stipulated requirements, the future looks bright for the young Swede in black and yellow.

With a ball at one foot and the world at the other, the careful, guided sharpening of a blade already so edged will set Alexander Isak on the one path he is destined for: superstardom.

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