When Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened their respective seasons with seven goals between them, it seemed a gripping race between the trio for the European Golden Shoe was underway. Although the Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund stars sit high up on the list as the campaign nears its end as predicted, their race has been disrupted by an unexpected but determined Bas Dost.
“I'm going to give my all to beat Lionel Messi,” he said this week, currently sitting second to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in the continental goal chart, two goals behind.
Though his rivals started well, the striker drew a blank on his first game of the season with Wolfsburg, but he got underway in his next appearance – turning out for Sporting after making a €10 million move at the end of August.
He has been clinical since, following that debut goal with another the following week and a double on his third appearance. The goals kept coming, he scored four against Tondela, and hat-tricks against Boavista and Sporting Braga.
Whereas Messi has grace, his closest competitor for the Golden Shoe is all you'd expect for a man of 1.96m. As robust as his name suggests, Dost lacks elegance and instead bundles through the box, yet he is deadly inside it, scoring a total of 31 goals from 80 shots, 42 on target, in 28 league games.
Topping the Eredivisie goalscoring charts at the age of 22 with 32 goals, his ability to find space even in the most cramped penalty areas combined with his quick reactions saw him become a star. This season, though, he is even more focused in getting into dangerous positions and he has further refined his aerial ability, scoring 11 headers from 27 attempts.
It is something he has always had in him, but a mixture of injuries, inconsistency and his rigid style have prevented him from flourishing since leaving Netherlands.
His final season in his homeland had been his finest until this one, but he had been tipped to go far before then. Before joining Heerenveen from Heracles at the age of 20, he attracted interest from Ajax. Then, just a few months into his time in Friesland, the Amsterdam side made an offer before the end of the January transfer window and when Heerenveen rejected it, Dost called for an emergency meeting at the KNVB. The striker who “slept in Ajax pyjamas”, as his agent said, even went for a medical in Rotterdam after an agreement was reached between the two clubs, but it fell through at the last minute.
“I heard at the 11th hour that it was not going to happen,” he said on Fox Sports last year. “Why? No idea. You can imagine that it was not fun.
“I wanted to go to Ajax so badly, but when you get screwed like that you don’t feel the desire anymore.”
Despite the upset, he carried on, and with excellent service from Luciano Narsingh, Oussama Assaidi and Filip Djuricic the following season, he helped give Heerenveen an outside chance of winning the league until the last few weeks of the campaign, only for Ajax to win it.
He was subsequently linked to Everton and West Ham, but it was Felix Magath’s Wolfsburg who snapped him up for €9m the following summer.
“He is extremely dangerous in the box,” coach Magath said. “I'm sure he will be just as important to us as he was with Heerenveen."
Things started off well, as Dost was a regular starter for most of his first season in Germany, but he was displaced by Ivica Olic towards the end, who helped them crawl up to a mid-table finish.
After an injury-plagued second term, he was stuck on the bench at the start of 2014-15, but got his chance in November and hit his stride with 16 league goals, with a run of 12 goals in seven league games which included a double against Bayern Munich and four in a 5-4 win over Bayer Leverkusen. He started the next season well, with seven goals in 13 Bundesliga matches, but another injury saw his Wolfsburg career fade out in the final months before Sporting came calling.
Having hit the ground running, he has continued to develop and his focus on getting into the centre of the box has served him well. He benefits from his link up with those around him. That Sporting have a great deal of creativity coming from all angles and various players, his job is quite simple. He does provide the occasional chance and his improved awareness is evident further when his first touch passes through defenders to find a well-placed team-mate. It seems even his technique has improved.
His success at Sporting proves he is at the perfect place, as his coach Jorge Jesus says.
"Bas Dost's development, everyone feels it, even him,” he said recently. “We have done well with him. It is no coincidence, we’ve seen it with other strikers have played under me. Like Islam Slimani, who scored 32 times.
He added later: “Dost has the mentality of a champion, the image of what I want for Sporting in the future.”
Dost admits the ex-Benfica boss has been key in his new efficiency.
“Jesus is helping me develop my abilities,” he said. “I always try to do in the games what he teaches me in training and he has taught me a lot.
“He has set up the team for me, the system is tailored so that I get a lot of passes in the box and when it comes to me, it’s normal for me to do my job and score goals.”
With three games left and eight points separating Sporting from Primeira Liga leaders Benfica, Dost’s side may have little chance of lifting the title this season. But Dost still has the motivation to keep banging them in as he looks to outscore arguably the best that ever lived.