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Alan Shearer on Alexander Isak: The pace, the playing style and embracing that record fee

Newcastle United’s purchase of the Sweden striker Alexander Isak is an exciting signing that will capture the imagination of the Geordies.

Eddie Howe needed to get a forward in, and Isak is someone who can play either with Callum Wilson, or instead of him. Isak’s going to have to do both because of Wilson’s current hamstring injury, and he might have to hit the ground running.

The club-record fee of £60million ($70.5m) is something Isak will have to deal with. It’s big money, but what isn’t these days? I was a British record signing at Blackburn Rovers in 1992, then a world-record signing at Newcastle four years later, and it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the pressure. I enjoyed everyone looking at me and expecting things of me.

I know he’s come from a big club, Real Sociedad, but the crowd at St James’ Park are crazy, and they love nothing better than a forward who puts the ball in the net, a forward who excites them.

Look at the reaction they gave Wilson. Look at the reaction they gave Allan Saint-Maximin when he played like he did last weekend. And Miguel Almiron runs his socks off all day and they love him for that — at times, his final product isn’t as good as it could be, but the Newcastle crowd love a forward.

That’s why I’d describe Isak as a forward, not a centre-forward. I know he’s worn No 9 but he looks like he can play right, left or in the centre. Yes, he’ll score goals, but he’s not an out-and-out No 9 at the moment — and so in terms of the pressure to get off the mark, to score 30 goals in the season, he hopefully doesn’t have that straight away. Hopefully, that does come later on.

His stats are interesting.

He has played 40 games or more in all competitions three seasons in a row, so he’s avoided injuries, which is important. In terms of goals, he scored 17 in La Liga two seasons ago, then only six last time.


(Photo: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

So his task now is becoming more consistent — and in fairness, at 22, not many players are truly consistent in terms of goalscoring. There’s no better feeling than putting the ball in the net, and once he gets his first one, he’ll enjoy that, and want more.

It’s about hard work, time on the training ground, understanding and learning what the Premier League is all about — because it is different. It is physical, the referees allowing more contact this season than they have in the last couple of seasons, which I think is a good thing.

So there are things he can work on, and goalscoring is one of them. Some people say it’s natural, and in some ways I understand that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on it, improve and become more prolific. In particular, he doesn’t score many headed goals for a 6ft 4in (192cm) striker — only three in three La Liga seasons. That might be down to Sociedad, in terms of the way they play, not putting crosses into the box. And he can score more scrappy goals — the tap-ins from one yard are as good as the ones from 30 yards.

La Liga goals for Real Sociedad

La Liga season

Matches

Goals

2019-20

37

9

2020-21

34

17

2021-22

32

6

But I’m sure all Newcastle fans have been watching clips of his goals, and I’m no different. He’s quick, and that will be great against teams who play a high line, stretching teams. And looking at some clips of him, his positioning is superb.

Here’s one goal I really liked, from the Europa League against Monaco. He’s not playing with his back to goal, he’s on the half-turn, as you should be as a forward, ready to make a run and get in behind.

Once the midfielder has got the ball, Isak is away, on the front foot — and watch his body position compared with the two defenders…

He spots the gap, he’s between the defenders, and it’s a clever finish. The keeper commits himself and it’s dinked over him, which is something Isak likes doing.

But it’s all about the run, and the timing of the run. The angle from behind the goal shows his body position well. And if teams play a high line, he’s going to enjoy that.

He’s scored some ridiculous goals — the one for Sweden against Kosovo, again with his favoured right foot from the left. It’s just pure class, sheer ability, to get yourself in that position and have the confidence to stick it in from that angle. There’s not a lot to aim at, he’s got two defenders in front of him, and he’s able to bend it in from his preferred position.

Here’s a goal that combines the two things he is really good at — good movement against a high line and a finish from the left.

He starts from really deep, but I like his run — he actually runs in front of his own player…

… but he’s doing that for a reason, to create space out where he wants to get to. He realises that ball is not going to come, so he comes in to his right, then goes back out to his left…

… and receives the ball in his favourite position…

… then cuts back on his right foot, and bends a shot into the far corner.

And this last one would give me immense satisfaction.

This is one of the things that Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford helped me with at Blackburn: coming short to go long. It’s just two steps to his right, the defender thinks he’s gonna get it short…

… but his team-mate is on the same wavelength. One run for the defender — to suck him in, if he’s stupid enough to come with you, and most of the time defenders are — and then one for himself, in behind.

Then you need the ability to finish it.

This is a fantastic goal. Great movement, great awareness, great pace.

Isak is not the finished article. There are things he can improve on, and I’m sure he will. And Howe comes into that. Look at the players he’s improved — Joelinton, for example; he’s now one of Newcastle’s main men. If you said that last year, no one would believe you but the transformation in the Brazilian has been magnificent.

With Isak, the crowd will love him if he just goes out and runs his socks off every weekend.

So imagine what it’ll be like if he goes out and excites people, and scores a few goals along the way.

(Top graphic — Photos: Getty Images/Design: Eamonn Dalton)

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