Is Alexander Isak the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Borussia Dortmund and Sweden International striker Alexander Isak

Fresh from becoming their youngest ever goalscorer, Alexander Isak is now also Sweden’s most expensive teenager having left AIK for Borussia Dortmund. Adam Bate speaks to Isak’s former coach to find out whether the player really is the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic…

The frenzy of interest in Sweden's new sensation Alexander Isak has been quite something. Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea were mentioned even before Real Madrid looked set to have got their man. Then Borussia Dortmund moved in to make him most expensive Swedish teenager ever, surpassing the fee Ajax paid to Malmo for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2001.

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A tall striker with a silky touch, the comparisons between Isak and Ibrahimovic are to be expected. They certainly won't go away now. Isak has already started to fill the void left in the national team, scoring the opener against Slovakia in December just days after making his debut for the senior side. In doing so, he became Sweden's youngest ever goalscorer.

Having also netted on his full debut for AIK aged 16, this was just the latest clue that Isak is capable of taking each step up in his stride. This is what scout look for - hints of a capacity for exponential improvement. But for Magnus Wikman, the Sweden Under-17 coach who first identified Isak when he was just 14, the big leap in progress came just over a year ago.

New Zlatan?

It was after scoring twice in the derby against Djurgardens IF in September that Isak's team-mate Chinedu Obasi said: "He can become the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic."

"It was around December 2015 and we had training camp," Wikman tells Sky Sports. "He was playing for us already but he was not the special one. He was not like he is now. But at that camp there were 66 players and he was much better than everyone else his age. He was just excellent. Something had happened in the space of two or three months.

"We then went to play a tournament in February in La Manga in Spain before playing the elite round of the European Under-17 Championships in Croatia in March. By that period he was one, two or three steps higher than before. He played with an extra self-confidence then. He was even more powerful than before.

Picture taken on January 12, 2017 shows Swedish football player Alexander Isak during a friendly football match between Sweden and Slovaka at Zayed Sports
Image: Isak became Sweden's youngest goalscorer for over 100 years

"That month with the combination of his pace and his confidence, he became more decisive. He was so much better than the other guys. He did not follow us to the European Championships because AIK would not let him play for us there and this year he has raised his levels again. I am not surprised any more but the last year has been extraordinary."

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Isak scored six goals in 19 games for Wikman's side but given his age, it's the trajectory not the total that is key. Consider his record for AIK. After scoring four times in 16 appearances for the club as a 16-year-old, he went on to bag six goals in seven games after turning 17, netting twice on his birthday. Isak is improving but there are still things to work on.

The last year has been extraordinary.
Sweden Under-17 coach Magnus Wikman on Alexander Isak

"His pace is quite high but not extreme," says Wikman. "His technique is really good and he has an especially impressive first touch. He is good with the ball and can link up with other players but he is still not a typical No 9 striker. He is not too good with his back to goal. He is more dynamic as he enjoys moving around and looking for space in the opposition half."

Isak is working to add those facets to his game and having described himself last year as "someone who can receive the ball at my feet and then spread the play from there" it seems he is well aware of what is required. An economics student, Isak is no teenage tearaway and his former coach has nothing but positive things to say about his character.

Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) celebrate a Sweden goal
Image: Can Isak follow in the footsteps of Henrik Larsson and Ibrahimovic?

"He's a lovely guy," adds Wikman. "He's a bit shy and very humble. He is a mature person when you talk to him and especially on the pitch. He's particularly intelligent on the pitch. He understands the game really well. He's a good guy to work with. There is a lot of focus on him and I'm proud that he is dealing with it so well. He's keeping his feet on the ground."

While Isak cites Ibrahimovic as an inspiration, he also name-checks former AIK forward Henok Goitom as someone he looks up to. Goitom, like Isak, was born in Sweden but is of Eritrean descent and the fathers of the two players are friends. The 30-year-old striker has been a useful sounding board for the youngster - and he has had big decisions to make.

Time will tell whether Dortmund was the right choice. Speaking to Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, it appears that Real Madrid "definitely wanted him for the B team as they want to make that side much stronger next season" so perhaps the pathway to the Dortmund first team is clearer. Wikman feels it is vital that he has got the move right.

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"I hope that the people around him help him and make the right decisions because it is important that he is going to play games," he says. "You can train every day with good players but you need to play. Hopefully things won't go against him and he spends too much time as a substitute. He needs to be playing. Hopefully this will be the right step for him.

"I don't know his full potential yet. If you look at what he has done in the past year and where he is now, there's the potential to play in one of the big five leagues at a big club. But you never know. He's not there yet. He needs to be in a good environment where he can play games every week and maybe twice a week. That's most important."

That will be a challenge at Dortmund, of course. But while the move to Germany is daunting, so was the one to the AIK first team at 16 and the Sweden side at 17. Isak has come a long way since that training camp with Wikman but he keeps coping with every step up. If he can handle the next one as well, he really will be on his way to becoming the next Ibrahimovic.

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