When the ball nestled in the back of the Djurgarden net after a perfectly timed run and powerful header, it marked not just a 17th birthday to never forget for one local fan, but also the birth of one of Sweden’s brightest young talent’s growing reputation. That player was Alexander Isak.
Having already grabbed the opening goal in the Stockholm derby for AIK, taking a thoroughly ball confidently under his control and firing low and hard into the far corner, Isak’s second sent his side marching on their way to a memorable 3-0 victory over their bitter rivals.
After the September 2016 match, teammate Chinedu Obasi – who scored the third goal – couldn’t help but laud his young teammate as the incredible talent he was proving himself to be. Then came the comparison: Obasi describing Isak as Sweden’s new Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s quite the comparison to be given as a young man of 17, but the reasons behind it are clear to see. Confident and assured on the ball, the rangy striker already looks the real deal at senior level and much like Ibrahimovic did years before him, quickly tore up domestic Swedish football.
Born and raised in Sweden to immigrant parents, Eritreans in Isak’s case, there were similarity too in their backgrounds; as both players stand as symbols of Sweden’s vast multiculturalism. Difference as well though, as Isak grew up in a stable home not untypical of the average Swede, with a settled childhood – a far cry from Ibrahimovic’s own growing up in the tough Malmo neighbourhood of Rosengard, to parents who divorced before his second birthday.
On the pitch too, beyond their height and confidence on the ball, that is where the comparisons stop between the two forwards. Both might have been blessed with magnificent technical ability, and have utilised it to become prolific in front of goal, but in terms of personality and playing style, the comparison couldn’t be more wrong.
Isak, now grabbing the headlines with Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga, stood out to coaches from an early age because of his maturity. A calm, modest character who remained down to earth and soft spoken despite his success, he was a far cry from the flamboyant, outspoken Ibrahimovic.
But that attitude fits so perfectly with Isak’s style as he plays too. The Swedish forward plays for his team, rather than the individual. Always on the turn, looking to play the ball as efficiently as possible, Isak’s impressive goalscoring throughout his career have not come at the cost of his work for the team.
In many respects, he’s a coach’s dream forward for that: deadly when in that shooting position, but far more willing when up against it to help build a chance with his teammates than take a crack at the spectacular from 30 yards.
Even down to his career progression, Isak has shown a measured approach. Despite early interest in him as a youngster from Real Madrid, he opted against becoming the latest young Galactico to join German side Borussia Dortmund, a club with a proven track record for developing young, untested European talent.
Even while at Dortmund, the young Swedish forward spent a period playing fourth division football with the Borussia Dortmund II reserve side to further his senior football development.
There has never been a need to covet the public eye from Isak, which will only stand the young man in fine standing going forward. He has been capable of polishing his game to the best of its ability, and continues to do so, away from the eyes of the world’s media. It’s why the young, dynamic team around him at Real Sociedad will suit him so well.
Isak is a name that will be around for years to come, with Sweden braced to enjoy their newest star. If he truly is the next Ibrahimovic, he will also represent a very different Ibrahimovic.