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Wahid Faghir: 'The new Ibrahimovic' ready to shine at the U21 Euros

7:00 AM EDT 5/28/21
Wahid Faghir NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old striker has been linked with clubs from around Europe after a strong first year of senior football playing for Vejle in Denmark

From Marko Arnautovic to Alexander Isak, from Enes Unal to Patrik Schick, the label of being 'the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic' has been passed between a number of players over the past decade or so.

And while some have emerged to enjoy decent enough top-flight careers, none have come close to replicating the levels reached by the iconic Swede.

Now there is a new youngster who is being forced to take up the mantle of emulating one of the best strikers of the 21st century.

Wahid Faghir is the player in question and he will be hoping to lead Denmark to glory when the Under-21 European Championship resumes with the knockout stages on Monday.

Having become the youngest player to represent the Danes at U21 level during the group stages in March, the 17-year-old has again been named in manager Albert Capellas' squad as they prepare to face Germany in the quarter-finals.

All eyes will likely be on the Vejle striker, with a number of top clubs having already shown an interest in the latest 'new Ibrahimovic'.

“Faghir is a fast forward, technically good, has game intelligence and also participates in defensive work," Steen Tychosen, the head of Vejle's academy, said when Faghir signed his first professional contract as a 15-year-old in 2018.

"Wahid has many strengths and has tremendous confidence in his own abilities. There is a bit of Zlatan in him, because he plays with great self-confidence in training and in matches. He doesn't play like he's only 15."

Having grown up in one of the area's toughest neighbourhoods, Finlandsparken, Faghir joined the Vejle academy as a six-year-old in 2009 before gradually making his way through the youth ranks.

He eventually made his first-team debut in June 2020 after a campaign which saw him score seven goals and lay on nine assists in 11 U19s matches.

Faghir's impact was instant, as he found the net in two of his first three senior outings, before ending the campaign with five direct goal contributions in 10 appearances as Vejle secured promotion to the Danish Superliga.

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In 2020-21, he has managed the step up to the top flight, scoring six goals in 26 league appearances through the end of season play-offs, though a hamstring injury limited his participation in the final weeks of the campaign.

When balancing his output with Ibrahimovic at the same age, he compares favourably too.

Ibrahimovic's first two-and-a-half professional seasons as a teenager at Malmo saw him score 16 goals in 40 appearances, though 12 of those strikes came in the second tier of Swedish football and he was 19 by the time he reached that number of games.

Faghir's first 40 senior outings, meanwhile, have returned nine goals, though he will not even turn 18 until the end of July.

There are certainly similarities between the way the pair play, too. Though Faghir stands 10 centimetres shorter than the AC Milan star, he too is able to show a physical side to his game while possessing excellent technique.

He also boasts a little arrogance, and though at times he would be advised to cut out the odd flick or trick, the teenager is certainly the kind of player who can get fans off their seats whenever he picks up the ball.

“I think I am difficult to face on the pitch," Faghir told Danish tabloid BT in February. "If people think I'm annoying on the pitch and they don't like me, it makes me even stronger."

Unsurprisingly, clubs from bigger and better leagues are already beginning to circle. Tottenham, AC Milan, Ajax and Leicester City have all been credited with interest, and they are unlikely to be Faghir's only suitors.

"Wahid will undoubtedly become the most important sale in Vejle's history," Jacob Kruger, Vejle's technical director, told Discovery Plus Denmark in April. "There is great interest in players of that age and who play in that position."

His international future, meanwhile, could also come under some scrutiny despite having played all his age-group games for Denmark thus far.

The son of Afghanistani parents, the Lions of Khorosan have not given hope of convincing Faghir to represent them in the future, though for now he remains committed to the country of his birth.

"Without making any guarantees, we hope and believe that Wahid has a long career ahead of him in the national team with Denmark, because he is a very talented player," explained Flemming Berg, the head of elite development at the Danish Football Association.

"He has an important role in our youth national team, and we see in him the potential for a long career in the national team."

That important role leads him to Hungary and Slovenia in the coming days, and with a victory over much-fancied France already in their back pocket, Denmark are quietly confident of going all the way in the U21 Euros.

If they are to return on that potential, then they may need the latest in the long line of 'new Ibrahimovics' to show the world what he can do.