If you’re looking for reasons why Real Sociedad lead the LaLiga Santander standings heading into the November international break, look no further than Alexander Isak. The 22-year-old has formed a formidable partnership with club captain and local boy Mikel Oyarzabal – a partnership which perfectly encapsulates the club’s finely-tuned balance of homegrown and foreign talent – as the side from the iconic city of San Sebastian on Spain’s northern coast go into the break one point ahead of Real Madrid.
Isak first joined Real Sociedad in 2019 and has since established himself as one of the brightest young talents in European football. He caught the eye in this summer’s Euro 2020, when his skills, speed and spatial awareness helped his home country of Sweden top a group including eventual semi-finalists Spain.
But while he was born and raised in Solna, a neighbourhood just north of Stockholm city centre, and is the youngest-ever scorer in the history of the Swedish national team (17 years, 3 months, and 22 days), Isak hails from a proud Eritrean family. His parents are both Eritreans and lived in the East African nation before emigrating to Sweden before Isak was born in 1999.
In spite of the many miles that separated his parents’ homeland and their adopted homeland, Alexander grew maintaining a strong connection to his ancestral home. There exists a large Eritrean community in Sweden; in fact, one of his first and favourite coaches after enrolling in the youth academy at local side AIK was Nahom Ghidey, an Eritrean.
Growing up he even had an Eritrean role model. Henok Goitom was also born in Solna to Eritrean parents and went on to play in LaLiga Santander and Italy’s Serie A for the likes of Getafe CF, Real Valladolid, and Udinese. Their parents knew each other and Goitom himself was quick to see Alexander’s potential, praising him on social media as he emerged from AIK’s youth academy. “To receive praise from Henok is great and I learn a lot from him,” Alexander said at the time in an interview with leading Swedish newspaper Sportbladet. “We are compatriots, and we support each other. We often get compared to each other.”
Isak has also often been compared to Zlatan Ibrahimović, with both the forwards having made an impact in the Allsvenskan at a young age. In the case of Isak, he started training with the AIK first team at the age of 15 and he then made his debut aged 16, before featuring for the national team for the first time a year later.
In January 2017 that he graduated from AIK, moving on to the Bundesliga to sign a contract with Borussia Dortmund. At that time, he was close to joining Real Madrid and the club from the Spanish capital reportedly had a flight and hotel booked for him, but he ultimately decided to make Dortmund his next step. After with signing for Real Sociedad in 2019. He has impressed in the Spanish top flight, scoring 29 LaLiga Santander goals so far at the highly-impressive rate of one every 157 minutes.
He also holds the record as the youngest player to score in five consecutive LaLiga Santander matches in the 21st century (21 years, 146 days), ahead of the likes of Sergio Agüero, Samuel Eto’o and Gonzalo Higuain, generational talents who made their mark at a very young age in LaLiga Santander.
Throughout his time in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, Isak has always maintained a close connection with Eritrea and he is proud of his African ties. In 2018, he was invited to visit the capital of Asmara by Zemede Tekle, the country’s Commissioner of Culture and Sports. There he visited grassroot projects in the capital Asmara, speaking to aspiring footballers and sharing his story with young boys and girls.
As the star striker for the top team in LaLiga Santander, Isak is becoming increasingly well-known and popular with each passing week and goal. Still just 22, his career promises to be a special one.