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'Monstrous' Alexander Isak outgrowing Zlatan comparisons with every goal

7:00 AM EST 2/13/20
Alexander Isak Real Sociedad 2019-20
Discarded by Dortmund, the young Swede has claimed a starring role for the San Sebastian club, scoring big goals against Real Madrid and Athletic Club

Alexander Isak’s face is on t-shirts. Mugs. Even cushions. Unlike lightning, he struck twice in a week, winning two huge games for Real Sociedad and a certain mania has taken hold of San Sebastian as a result.

The club shop proudly displays its Isak merchandise after the Swedish striker hit the spotlight by notching a brace against Real Madrid to take La Real to the Copa del Rey semi-finals, then putting local rivals Athletic Club to the sword in the Basque derby.

Isak, 20 years old, has a remarkable eight goals in his last six games and 14 in just 11 starts for Real Sociedad this season. It is no surprise he is turning heads, he has been since he was a teenager.

The striker, of Eritrean descent, started playing for his hometown club AIK in Solna, Stockholm as a six-year-old, making his first team debut 10 years later in February 2016. By April, he had become the club’s youngest ever scorer in the Allsvenskan. Isak scored twice on his 17th birthday to sink rivals Djurgardens IF.

“He’s a big talent, he has enormous potential,” said then team-mate Chinedu Obasi, who became one of the first to compare Isak to the country’s biggest football icon. “He can become the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic.”

A year later, Isak was playing for Borussia Dortmund, who saw enough of the teenager’s performances to make him the most expensive export from the Swedish top flight at a reported €9 million (£7.5m/$9.8m).

Isak turned down a move to Real Madrid, probably wisely given how rare it is young players break through at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Dortmund barely used him either and he moved to Willem II on loan.

As Ibrahimovic did with Ajax back in the day, Isak feasted in the Eredivisie, hitting 14 goals in 18 games, but it wasn’t enough to convince Dortmund to keep him.

They sold him to Real Sociedad in June 2019 for the remarkably low price of €6.5m (£5.4m/$7.1m), although they did insert a €30m (£25.1m/$32.6m) buy-back fee in the deal.

Given Isak’s sensational form, Dortmund may choose to execute that in the summer but there is no indication that Isak would be willing to move back to Germany when he has found San Sebastian so welcoming.

Other clubs will have to ready a €70m (£59m/$76m) offer if they want him. However, his buy-out clause could skyrocket if Sociedad hand him a new deal.

It was Isak’s shot that Real Madrid goalkeeper Alphonse Areola mishandled for Martin Odegaard’s opener and, after seeing a goal of his own disallowed, the striker netted two more in the second half to earn Real Sociedad a 4-3 win at the Bernabeu last Thursday.

Brought off the bench by Imanol Alguacil on Sunday against Athletic, he made an instant impact, flicking the ball over a defender’s head and firing narrowly off target.

A few minutes later, he helped send La Real ahead, with a brilliant change of feet and assist for Portu. After Inaki Williams equalised for Athletic Isak found the winner, firing home at the second attempt to delight fans, who sang his name.

"Oeoeoeoe Isak, Isak,” goes the chant. Simple but effective.

The Spanish media has hailed Isak, labelling him – distastefully – ‘the black Ibra’, and later in newspaper AS, perplexingly, ‘the Swedish Ibra’. Whatever adjective you use, the Zlatan tag is one Swedish journalist Alexandra Jonson believes we should be wary of.

“It’s a comparison we’ve heard in Sweden as well, as there are a few similarities. The way Isak broke through from nowhere so quickly as a teenager in the Swedish league – it hasn’t been seen since Zlatan,” Jonson told Goal.

“Then, he became the first player to break Zlatan’s transfer record in the Swedish league when AIK sold him; simply put he is the biggest talent we’ve seen since Zlatan.

"But personally I think the comparisons should end there. It's more of a lazy thing to compare him to Zlatan just because he’s Swedish.

“There are some similarities but I believe Isak is a very different player to Zlatan and definitely a completely different type of personality.

"But I don’t think the comparisons affect him. He is a very down-to-earth guy, very calm and none of this is new to him.

“I talked to him at the Bernabeu and asked him how he handled the spotlight, the whole of Spain talking about him, fans singing his name – the kid’s only just turned 20, and he shrugged his shoulders and said ‘I’m used to it; it’s my normal.' It doesn’t bother him at all.”

Like Ibrahimovic, Isak has a big frame and can score spectacular goals, along with boasting excellent technical qualities. He can carry the ball with big strides, outpace defenders with a gallop and finish coolly, scoring with his left as well as his stronger right, and his head.

Big games don’t phase him, as we saw last week, and he previously scored against Barcelona.

“Isak is in a monstrous state of form," said former Malmo and Sweden striker Daniel Nannskog. "He's at the point of becoming La Real's main attacking star.”

If Willian Jose had left for Tottenham in January, or is prised away by Barcelona as an emergency replacement for Ousmane Dembele, Isak can fill the void. In truth, he's already carrying the attack.

“There’s definitely a lot of excitement (in Sweden). This is what people have been expecting from Isak to come with time, but maybe not this quick,” added Jonson.

“Anyone who’s seen him play knows he’s a special talent. While I don’t think anyone is surprised, it’s impossible to not be shocked with what he is doing right now; we are watching Swedish football history. And don’t think any Swede can get enough of this.

“They had a question on one of the biggest Swedish newspapers website the other day: ‘Who is the best Swedish striker right now?’ Isak beat Zlatan by a landslide.

"This is something special in the making and I think we are all aware of that.”