Isak has been tipped for the top for some time, and having broken into the AIK first team at the age of 16 in 2016, he became their youngest-ever scorer. Borussia Dortmund were alert to his talent and, with Real Madrid also reportedly interested, they didn’t wait long to sign him the following year for around €9m.
He never really settled in Germany, and despite Dortmund’s reputation for developing young players, Isak played only 13 times for the first team, scoring one goal. He impressed on loan at Dutch Eredivisie club Willem II in 2018-19 with 14 goals and seven assists in 18 games, and that was enough to persuade Spanish side Real Sociedad to make a €10m move.
In 132 games for La Real, Isak managed 44 goals and eight assists, with a breakthrough campaign in 2020-21 seeing him bag 17 goals from 34 games in LaLiga. Though he hasn’t won much silverware, he did win the 2019-20 Copa del Rey as the competition’s top scorer with seven goals.
And, having made his senior Sweden debut in 2017, he also broke the record for his nation’s youngest scorer (at 17 years and 113 days) before netting nine goals from 39 games.
Long dubbed “the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” mainly based on his nationality and position rather than anything stylistic, Isak will be keen to show the Premier League what he can do.
A centre-forward who can also use his pace and agility out wide, Isak is about as modern a player as they come. At 6-foot-4, he has the physical size to dominate his opponents, but he is also quite rangy with his movement and can be tricky to pin down.
Happy to press from the front, with a high work rate, he primarily played as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation last season, but he can also link up with another strike partner in a 4-4-2. Newcastle fans might want to see a player akin to Alan Shearer, but Isak is a new style of target man ready to press, create and score.
By the numbers
Isak was the most likely player in the Real Sociedad side to score last season, according to his xG, though he has room to improve his overall contribution.
Stats based on 2021-22 Primera Division only, vs. players with over 10 games.
Touches: 803 (14th at Real Sociedad)
Pass accuracy: 74.3% (18th)
Assists: 2 (3rd=)
Goals: 6 (2nd)
Chances created: 20 (7th)
Expected goals (xG): 11.2 (1st)
Expected assists (xA): 3.13 (5th)
At this stage of his development, Isak might still appear slightly unrefined, yet the feeling is there’s a lot more to come — especially once he has polished attributes expected of a traditional centre-forward.
Though he is often referred to as a typical No. 9, the Swedish player’s skill set is slightly more complex than the run-of-the-mill centre-forward. He is outstanding at pulling away from his markers to find advantageous spaces in the penalty area, which in turn leads to him arriving well positioned in the box. He also makes good use of his strength to hold on to the ball, and he is developing his touch to include swift flicks and combination play in the last third.
Isak is at his most effective when facing the opponent’s goal. He has excellent acceleration, runs with purpose and has sharp, unpredictable movement. He can advance well with the ball, navigate tight spaces and is a significant threat on the counter-attack. In fact, Isak’s mobility — perhaps his No. 1 forte — is more akin to an old-school second striker. — Tor-Kristian Karlsen
How he can improve
With an occasionally erratic first touch and lack of a steady aerial presence (in spite of his size), Isak’s holdup game still leaves something to be desired. His finishing also lacks the effortless, instinctive one-touch finesse of a top striker.
For all his untapped potential, Isak has tended to perform well in streaks and can drift in and out of games, leaving him somewhat disconnected from the team’s attacking mechanisms. Rather than any lack of tactical understanding or physical shortcomings, the obvious weaknesses in his game appear to be linked to an occasional lack of focus — a potential problem in the demanding Premier League. However, if Newcastle boss Eddie Howe can sharpen this up, Isak could go on to fulfil his early promise and develop into a forward worthy of his club-record fee. — Karlsen
Why were Newcastle interested?
Newcastle wanted to secure a particular profile of striker: young with big potential. It’s why they tried tp sign Reims’ Hugo Ekitike, now at PSG on loan, FC Salzburg‘s Benjamin Sesko — who signed with RB Leipzig for €24m and will join next summer — and more recently Watford’s Joao Pedro.
Isak fits that profile perfectly and better than the others who were linked. He has more experience, despite still only being 22, he has been a regular for Real Sociedad in a major European league, LaLiga, and he has impressed for his national team, Sweden.
He is a mature character that has shown the ability to hold a frontline on his own but also combine with others, demonstrating his growth as a player. These aspects were clearly appealing to Newcastle, as they not only wanted a young striker but one who can make an immediate impact. While not the finished product, which the club will be well aware of, Isak is someone they can shape further. — David Cartlidge
Will he fit in at St James’ Park?
Isak is extremely versatile and mature, which will hold him in good regard as he finds his footing in the North East. He can handle himself, which will help him in a physical Premier League, and is also a smart, confident individual, so any slump in form or early difficulties settling should be navigated well.
While he is technically excellent, he’s also a hard worker, so if things go wrong, don’t expect to see his head drop. Instead, he will dust himself off and go again. The prospect of Isak working with French forward Allan Saint-Maximin is an exciting one, and the link-up between the pair could be vital to Newcastle’s success.
It is a brave move to spend €70m on a 22-year-old, but Isak has the right character and level of ability to do well. — Cartlidge.