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Once billed as ‘the new Zlatan’, Alexander Isak is forging his own path at Real Sociedad

June 6, 2020

REAL Sociedad's in-form starlet Alexander Isak is not the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic, nor the new Dalian Atkinson, but the young Swedish striker is definitely making a name for himself at the moment.

La Real's exciting young side have been really impressive this season – with Martin Odegaard [21], Mikel Oyarzabal [22] and Mikel Merino [23] all shining as 'Baby Real' look to reach the Copa del Rey final and finish in the top four in La Liga.

However maybe the most impressive of all as La Real have won their last five games in all competitions has been 20-year-old Swedish striker Isak – whose goalscoring and all-round play have been absolutely exceptional.

Four days in mid-February saw Isak really take flight – first scoring twice at the Bernabeu to knock Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, then winning the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao for La Real with a fine goal and assist.

Such displays are bringing sometimes unfortunate comparisons to his fellow Swede Ibrahimovic and 1990s La Real cult hero Atkinson for a player who was long tipped for the top, but had seemed to lose his way.

In January 2017 Isak became the youngest ever scorer for the Sweden senior international side – aged just 17 years, three months and 22 days old [Zlatan was almost 20 before he scored his first]. That winter window saw him visit Real Madrid, where Odegaard was playing for the youth side, while there was also reported interest from Chelsea, Juventus and Bayern Munich. He left AIK Solna for Dortmund for €9 million, only to get lost a bit amid all the other young talents at the Westfalenstadion.

The first half of 2018/19 saw him shut out completely at Dortmund, then score 13 goals in 16 Eredivisie games on loan at Willem II. That led La Real to persuade him to come to San Sebastian for an absolute bargain fee of €6.5 million.

The kid did take a while to get settled in the Basque country. Until a poacher’s effort in an impressive all-round display against Barcelona in December kicked off a run of 12 goals in 12 games across La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

Suddenly the ‘new Zlatan’ nickname was not looking so crazy. Isak is a couple of inches shorter – at [just] six feet two inches. He’s also quite a lot skinnier, at this moment anyway, and [for better or worse] looks a generally quieter character.

But Isak is a lot more mobile and faster – hence the comparison to Atkinson, who scored 12 goals in 30 games for the txuri-urdin in 1990/91. An excellent fit for La Real’s possession based game, he’s very comfortable coming deep to knit the play together, and especially joining with Odegaard and Oyarzabal in lightning breaks from deep.

While he may not have Zlatan’s attitude, he’s not short of confidence. The two strikes at the Bernabeu were both smashed in from awkward positions without a moment’s hesitation. And against Athletic, with tackles flying in, he was pretty unfortunate when a neat flick over Yeray Alvarez’s head opened up the chance of a wondergoal only for his volley to fly just wide. There was also a cracker in the Copa against Espanyol – curled home from the edge of the area after a counter-attack led by Odegaard.

“The first weeks of the season we were talking about Odegaard, other times Oyarzabal and now obviously Isak is in super form,” La Real coach Imanol Alguacil said last month. “This is Isak’s moment, he is doing very well, and the team is benefitting. But that cannot happen without the team playing well, we have a lot of quality players.”

Alguacil is not wrong, and his mix of international starlets and homegrown Basque youngsters is super exciting. Only Barcelona and Madrid have scored more goals in La Liga this season, while La Real are also in the top six for possession share and total passes per Primera Division game, despite  a regular starting XI average age of around 23.

“Obviously it will be easier for me to play when the team owns a lot of ball, it suits me,” Isak says himself. “It's good for all of us really. It shows courage that we have such a young team that wants to play football. It is really fun and we will continue to do so.”

Dortmund apparently have a €30 million rebuy option this summer, but a return to the Westfalenstadion is not in his plans – especially with the even younger Erling Haaland’s current form at centre-forward there.

“I’m fully aware of the option between the clubs,” Isak told Swedish publication Sportbladet in mid-February. “All I can say is that Dortmund is in my past and not in my future. I really enjoy being where I am and my only focus now is Real Sociedad.”

The general €70m release clause in his contract does not look outlandish however, especially if Isak can keep his current form going. Wednesday sees La Real bring a 2-1 advantage to Segunda side Mirandes for their Copa semi-final second leg, then Alguacil's team could add to Barcelona’s woes at the Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon in La Liga.