As a player once dubbed “the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic”, it was only right that Alexander Isak would turn to the Eredivisie for the opportunity to prove himself as a potential star.
The Swedish striker followed his enigmatic predecessor’s lead by moving to Netherlands as a 19-year-old and has made a spectacular impression with 13 goals from 14 appearances for Willem II. He only joined in January, but Isak needs just one more Eredivisie goal to match his countryman’s best tally in a full season in the Dutch top-flight.
Ibrahimovic spent three years with Ajax before going on to build on his success by winning titles at Inter, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain - as well as becoming his country’s all-time top scorer.
Isak will not get the chance to get one Eredivisie winner’s medal let alone the two Ibrahimovic left with before he returns to Borussia Dortmund once his loan spell ends this summer. He could, though, replicate his compatriot by winning the KNVB Beker when Willem II face Ajax in the final.
It would be a wild transfer at this point, but Ibrahimovic’s difficult spell at Barcelona should not serve as an omen for the man the media has hailed as his heir. The promising talent has a different playing style and personality to the iconic forward.
They are both tall – Isak is 6ft 3in and Ibrahimovic is about two inches taller – but the youngster is not as strong and struggles to make good use of his frame. He does not have Ibrahimovic’s ego and affection for controversy, either, which will benefit him in many ways, but he needs more courage in physical battles and less apathy in the air.
It is his ability to find the net, close control and link-up play with team-mates that has made him a record-breaker at Willem II. Even though his first three appearances were goalless, he hit his stride after opening his account against Vitesse with a spectacular run that saw him become the first player in 50 years to score 11 times in his first 11 Eredivisie games.
That streak included the decisive goal in a 3-2 win at Feyenoord, a hat-trick of penalties against Fortuna Sittard, two fine goals and two assists as they beat Heracles 4-3 away, their only goal in a 4-1 loss to Ajax and the goal and assist in a 2-0 victory over PEC Zwolle. He was also crucial in guiding them past AZ in the KNVB Beker semi-finals, scoring in the 1-1 draw and then converting his penalty in the shootout. He has been exceptional for the Tilburg side, who are pushing for the play-offs for a Europa League spot.
His development has been as impressive as it is obvious. It took him 29 games to reach the tally of 13 goals at his former side AIK Solna, while in 13 games for Borussia Dortmund he hit the net just once - against a then
Willem II supporters have taken a shine to him, while he has become a symbol for Eritreans – his parents are from there – and there was a group of fans from the African country cheering him on to score against PEC Zwolle in tribute to recently murdered rapper Nipsey Hussle. He was happy to embrace them in his victory lap after engineering another win to show them that, like his fellow Eritrean descendant, he is prolific, so gifted, the type that's gon’ go get it.
Willem II coach Adrie Koster, who coached Luis Suarez and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in a spell as interim Ajax boss, has been in awe of him, too.
“I have never worked with such a complete player,” he said. “He has everything: speed, overview, technique and scoring ability.”
Isak is always looking for space to help Willem II advance as they build up patiently. He often moves wide to create it and charge upfield or he will drop deep to combine with team-mates, but he is at his best when he can drift behind centre-backs and have the ball played in front of him. He rarely shoots from outside the box and he can be deadly once he is inside, but his finishing ability can still improve.
After he became his country’s youngest ever scorer in his first start for Sweden, he was left out for over two years as he struggled to make an impact at Borussia Dortmund. Now that he is
“It’s great that it has worked out so well for him,” Andersson told SVT Sport. “He has developed in most areas. In each match he has taken on more and more and made a number of nice goals here at the end.
“He was with the latest national team because he is good enough, not because he is young and promising.
"It's great that things are going so well for him and that he’s getting the playing time he needs. It is also evident that he has been in a good training environment, he has developed most and grown as a player in several different ways.”
If he can build on the excellent spell he has enjoyed in the Eredivisie, Europe’s top teams will soon be lining up to offer Dortmund a big increase on the reported €9 million fee they paid to get him.