When young Swedish talents surprise media, it's their almost Pavlovian instinct to hype the youngsters a'la English media. This might lead to bad decisions for the youngsters. Our guest writer Malte Törngren scribbles his thoughts on the huge conundrum of making the right decision.
When you think about youth football, golden generations and future worldbeaters, you're most likely to think about countries like France, Germany and Spain. However, recently there's been a couple of talents from Sweden that's been attracting interest from the big clubs, with Swedish-Eritrean youngster Alexander Isak the most recent. Having broken through at AIK, he's now earned himself a big-money move to Dortmund.
17 years earlier, Isak was born in Solna, a suburb to Stockholm. Five months earlier, another kid had been born in another suburb of Stockholm. His parents gave him the name 'Joel', however we'll return to that later. Alexander Isak started playing for AIK in 2005, aged 6. 10 years later he had been invited up to train the first team. In an interview with Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Isak said that his attacking-idols are Zlatan and Henok Goitom. What's so special about Goitom then? Played for Real Murcia among others, but mainly, he and Isak have a lot in common. They both have Eritrean roots, they're both strikers and they both play(ed) for AIK. Besides that, their dads know eachother as well. How cool is that?
Nearly a year after this interview, Isak has broken through and scored 10 goals for AIK, and, as said, earned himself a big-money move. He went to Dortmund for €8.6m, according to Transfermarkt. A blockbuster, a real star already? No idea, we'll see about that.
Now, back to Joel. Joel Joshoghene Asoro was born in Haninge, a suburb 50 km south of Solna. Joel joins IFK Haninge, his local club, at the age of 8. When he's 11 he's earned himself a move to one of the bigger clubs in Stockholm, IF Brommapojkarna. IFBP are known for their ability of bringing through youngsters of great quality, in recent years John Guidetti among others. After 5 years in Bromma, Joel moves overseas and joins Sunderland. In most cases, England is a bad decision for Swedish talents. A plausible reason could be that the managers in England just won't give young players the chance as often as in other leagues. Just look at Tanković (Fulham), Kačaniklić (Fulham), Kris Petersson (Liverpool) and Kris Olsson(Arsenal). They all moved to England at an early age, got hyped (we Swedes hype any player that gets a game and is under 20 honestly), and moved on to mediocrity. Olsson is back in Sweden now, playing for earlier mentioned AIK. Kačaniklić, one of my childhood heroes, is now at Nantes in France. Tanković and Petersson are now plying their trade in Holland for AZ and Heracles respectively. The only one between Isak and Asoro showing tendencies of ending up like these is Asoro, as he hasn't played first team football before moving overseas to Sunderland, with Isak being experienced from playing first team football and scoring ten goals in the Swedish Allsvenskan, which is quite remarkable considering his tiny age.
To the small list of Swedish talents that have 'succeeded' in recent years we can count Albin Ekdal, Victor Nilsson Lindelöf and Emil Forsberg. So many unsuccessful talents and so few succesful, but that's football, I guess. Does this mean Asoro and Isak will fail? Probably not. But you never know. Another, maybe even better comparison to make would be the one between Norwegian wonderkid Martin Ødegaard and Isak. Alexander was very close to doing the same move, to Spanish giants Real Madrid, but instead chose to move to Germany and Dortmund. Would Isak have ended up frozen out like Ødegaard? Possibly. Isak does though seem to have a better attitude about things than Martin. But as said earlier, you never know. The last time we swedes had someone as hyped as Isak it ended up a HUGE failure.
The year was 2013, and the U-17 World Cup in the UAE had only just started. Sweden are huge underdogs, having been drawn into a group including Iraq, Mexico and Nigeria (including a certain Kelechi Iheanacho, who would proceed to get player of the tournament). Sweden won their first game against Iraq rather convincingly, with Gustav Engvall (now at Bristol City) scoring a brace, Anton Saletros (AIK) scoring one and Ali Suljic (Chelsea) scoring for Sweden. The next game Sweden drew 3-3 with Nigeria, in a game where Valmir Berisha scored twice. And it was all about Berisha, he got all the hype. The last game Sweden lost 1-0 to Mexico, yet they proceeded as the best third placed team. The next game, would see Sweden knock Japan out, with Berisha and Engvall scoring the goals yet again. Onto the quarters then? Yes indeed. Sweden came from behind to win another game 2-1, this time with Erdal Rakip (Malmö FF) and once again Valmir Berisha as goalscorers. However in the semifinals, Sweden lost 3-0 to Nigeria, meaning they'll now get to play for third place. Berisha scored a hattrick against Argentina, to seal a 4-1 win. The hype was unreal. He went on to get topscorer with his 7 goals, 1 more than Kelechi. Now to the importance of making the right decisions.
While having offers from basically every big club out there, plus being offered a first team contract with Halmstad, he took his time. In the end, the choice was between Halmstad, Dortmund and Roma. His family wanted him to pick Dortmund, he signed for Roma. This ended up as one of the worst decisions he'd made in his life. He obviously got no playtime there, proceeding to him being loaned to Panathinaikos where he once again got no playtime, oddly enough. After only 4 days back at Roma he signed for SC Cambuur. After 9 months at Cambuur, he became a free agent. And now, last week, he signed for Norwegian side Aalesunds FK. From being chased by nearly every big club to signing for the team in 9th place (out of 16) in the Norwegian league within under 3 years. Downhill? The only way he knows how. Football can be cruel sometimes.
Guest writer, Swede and avid believer in Aymen Barkok's excellence
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