viktor gyökeres
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Viktor Gyökeres: The Method Behind the Madness

Sporting Lisbon’s Viktor Gyökeres has been nothing short of sensational this season, with the Swedish striker being involved in 46 goals across 42 games. The 25-year-old made his name in England with Coventry City when he led the Sky Blues to the Championship Play-Off Final in 2023, with the team losing on penalties to Luton Town. In the 2022–23 season for Coventry, Gyökeres netted 21 times in 44 starts and provided 10 assists.

Sporting made Gyökeres their number one target in the summer of last year and poached the forward for just £20.5 million, but let’s delve deeper into Gyökeres’ story and where it all started for him.

The Makings of Viktor Gyökeres

Gyökeres was born on June 4, 1998, in Stockholm, Sweden, and started his youth career with Swedish side IFK Aspudden-Tellus. He then moved to IF Brommapojkarna in 2013 and was moved into the team’s Under-17 side. Within two years, Gyökeres had made his senior debut for the club at just 16 years of age and was scoring frequently in the 2014/15 season but that year the club was relegated to the Swedish second tier. In 2015/16, the striker netted seven times for the club and helped the team back into the top flight.

After three successful seasons with the club, Gyökeres was starting to be noticed by top clubs, with Brighton & Hove Albion making their move and agreeing a two-year deal for the striker, with the deal becoming official at the end of the 2017/18 season. The Seagulls picked the striker up for just £850,000 and it still remains the Swedish side’s fourth-most expensive departure in their 82-year history. As the striker departed his homeland, he moved to England with 56 senior appearances under his belt and 20 goals to match, but when he arrived in England, he was set for a shock to the system.

Initial Struggles in England

Gyökeres joined Brighton officially in January of 2018 and would be turning 20 five months later, so when he moved to the south coast, he started training with the club’s under-23s and made his debut for the club in August of the same year against Southampton in a 1-0 Carabao Cup defeat. The striker did not appear for the Seagulls again until January 2019, when coming off the bench in a 0-0 FA Cup draw against West Bromwich Albion. 

After receiving next to no game time at Brighton, the striker was moved out on loan to German side St. Pauli in 2019, where he made 26 appearances and scored seven times. He then returned to Brighton in the summer of the 2020–21 season and netted his first goal for the club in a 4-0 thrashing of Portsmouth in the League Cup.

However, the goal was not enough to keep his place at the club and he was subsequently moved out on loan again in 2020 to high-flying Swansea, where he scored four goals across all competitions as the Swans finished fourth in the table and lost in the Play-off Final to now-Premier League side Brentford. It was another loan move of little payback for the striker, with small amounts of game time and no run of games to build up rhythm.  However, his next loan move would be the one that flicked the switch for his career.

Coventry City

Gyökeres returned to Brighton in January of 2021 and then moved to Coventry City on loan for the remainder of the 2020–21 season. Gyökeres scored three times in 19 appearances in his loan spell with the Blues and the move was then made permanent at the start of the 2021/22 season. Coventry agreed a three-year-deal with the striker and paid just over £900,000 for the services of the Swede.

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In the 21/22 season, the striker finally found a club that provided him with regular first-team football and he returned their faith, netting 17 times in the league and supplying five assists. He led Coventry to 12th, which at the time was the club’s highest Championship finish since the 2005/06 season, when the club finished eighth. 21/22 was the striker’s breakthrough campaign, especially in England. The Swede ended the league season as the division’s seventh-highest goalscorer.

The 21/22 season may have been his breakthrough season but the following year was the season that made people stand up and notice how special this 23-year-old striker from Sweden was. In the 22/23 season, Gyökeres was involved in 34 goals across 50 games in all competitions for the Sky Blues and led the team to a fifth-place finish, with the club losing on penalties in the play-off final to Luton Town.

Gyökeres finished the season with 21 Championship goals and ended up finishing second in the top goalscorer charts, just seven goals shy of the winner. With Coventry losing the Play-off Final, it became very clear that they would struggle to convince the striker to stay for another season of Championship football and interest was coming in from all over the world.

On July 13, 2023, the day that Coventry fans had been dreading arrived.

Time for Portugal

Sporting Lisbon agreed a deal with Coventry worth around £20.5 million and the striker agreed to a bumper five-year contract with the Portuguese side. The transfer still remains the club’s most expensive departure and the forward is Sporting’s second most expensive arrival. A decent piece of negotiation from Coventry, was that the club are due 10-15% of the profit that Sporting makes from any future transfer.

Gyökeres has set the world alight in his first campaign in Portugal, with Sporting winning their second title in four years and winning it by some distance thanks to a few factors but mainly the manager Ruben Amorim and Gyökeres. The striker was involved in 38 goals in the league, which saw him lift his first piece of major silverware and he was also a part of seven goals in the Europa League, which saw the Leões reach the last 16 of the competition and be knocked out by the eventual winners in Atalanta.

Gyökeres quickly became a fan favourite in Portugal with his masked celebration but the striker has never revealed the story behind the celebration. That did not stop fans copying his trademark celebration every single time that he scored.

So that’s the backstory to the striker’s career but there is so much more to analyse, so let’s delve into what makes Gyökeres so good and why he is one of the most talked-about striking commodities in Europe.

viktor gyökeres celebration
Sporting’s supporters gesture as Sporting’s Swedish forward #9 Viktor Gyokeres as they gather with thousands at Marques do Pommel square in Lisbon on May 6, 2024, to celebrate the title of Champions of the Portuguese football League 2023-24. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

A Transitional Target Man

Gyökeres operates best in transitional moments with his size and speed and is an anomaly in terms of his size because although he appears a bit clumsy due to his size, he actually possesses great on the ball ability and his hold up play is exemplary. Many times, defenders will get tight to the forward but his knowledge of beating defenders allows him to use his strength and turn of pace to accelerate away from defenders.

However, his height also allows him to be dominant in the air and he is more than capable of scoring headers and adapting to play as more of a targetman which is how he was used for Coventry in the three seasons he had there.

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Coventry manager Mark Robbins plays a very defensive style of football and the striker would often be left up front isolated but that was where he strived with him competing for everything and feeding off little to nothing but still managing to score 41 goals across the three different campaigns he had in England.

He has had to adapt to a new way of playing since moving to Portugal with young manager Amorim favouring a more possessive style and the team operating with a back three and multiple passing lanes being created from the midfield pushing up and the centre backs stepping out with the ball which in turn creates more support for Gyökeres – different to what he experienced in England. The frontline for Sporting is something to note with the three forwards constantly interchanging and Gyökeres has operated across the front three a lot this season showing his versatility and out of possession, there is a heavy focus on the high press with Gyökeres leading that. 

In terms of finishing, there are not many better than the 25-year-old with him boasting a 25% conversion rate this season. In the Sporting team there are many players that have the ability to create high quality chances and that has been evident for Gyökeres this season with quality arriving from out wide and through the channels with the likes of Pedro Goncalves, Francisco Trincao and of course the two wing-backs in Nuno Santos and Geny Catamo providing quality service for the striker with all four players racking up a combined 31 assists in the league this season.

The goal breakdown for Gyökeres this season is: 21 right footed goals, six left footed goals and two headed goals so it is clear to see that his right side is his preferred option but there is good ability to finish with his left foot. 

The coolness that Gyökeres has in front of goal is commendable and in the league this year he has overperformed his xG by around seven goals with him being expected to score 22 and he has returned 29 in the league and him scoring on average every 101 minutes that he plays. He has also been flawless from the spot this season with him having a 100% penalty record this campaign. 

Unexpected Creator 

To the naked eye, Gyökeres would not jump out at people as a frequent chance creator but he is in fact very adept at creating high quality chances for his teammates. With the Swede being very capable at filling the channels and turning defences around with his runs in behind, he always creates good space for his teammates due to defenders being more worried about the striker and so Gyökeres fills the half spaces and then finds a teammate which has seen him register 15 assists across all competitions this season.

Gyökeres also possesses great passing ability and has shown that more often than not this season, with him having 74% pass completion this season, which is greater than the average for most strikers. He also created 11 big chances for teammates in the league this season, further highlighting his playmaking abilities and his unselfishness to pull into more uncomfortable areas to help his teammates.

International Inefficiencies  

Gyökeres made his international debut for Sweden back in 2019 when he was just 20 years old and made his debut in a 1-0 loss against Finland and within the same international break, the striker scored his first senior goal for his country in a draw against Iceland. After a breakthrough season in England, Gyökeres received a late call up for the national team to replace the ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the team’s 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.

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Since his debut for the senior team, Gyökeres has scored six times in 20 appearances and ever since his debut, the national side has faced a major decline with them finishing bottom of their UEFA Nations League group and then failing to qualify for EURO 2024 after finishing third in the group. 

The start of his international career for Sweden has not gone how he would have hoped but he himself would have been pleased with his own performances with the striker being involved in eight four goals in eight matches across the team’s EURO 2024 qualifiers. There are some quality Swedish youngsters emerging across Europe with the likes of Alexander Isak, Gyökeres, Lucas Bergvall and Sebastain Nanasi so there is hope for the national team that these youngsters can fulfil their potential and return the team to the straight and narrow and see Sweden back at major tournaments. 

What Next for Gyökeres?

For Gyökeres to leave Sporting this summer it is going to be pretty difficult with his extortionate 85 million pound release clause and the fact that he has another four years left on his current deal in Portugal. There has been a lot of interest for the Swede in the Premier League with teams such as Arsenal and Chelsea circling the 25-year-old. Arsenal are in need of a new modern number nine to get them over the Premier League winning line and Gyökeres might just be that missing piece that Mikel Arteta is looking for.

Arsenal have not had anyone break the 20 goal barrier in the league since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the 2019/20 season and in order to pip Manchester City to the league crown, the Gunners need to bring in a new number nine to finally get them over the line.

Gyökeres would provide so many elements to the Arsenal team that are currently missing with the squad not having a killer finisher or somebody that get defences on the turn from the central striking area. Bukayo Saka would also enjoy having an in the box specialist because of his ability to deliver from wider areas and someone with the quality of Martin Odegaard would link up perfectly with Gyökeres with the striker’s link up play and ability to occupy the half spaces and run the channels.

Although Gyökeres is not of the same quality as Erling Haaland, the two players do share a lot of the same traits with both players being abnormally fast for tall builds and if you are using Haaland as an example, then it is clear to see that tall and fast strikers are in fashion in the league and are very hard for defences to handle due to their unpredictability. 

The drawback for a big English team moving for Gyökeres is that he is unproven in the league and it is hard to know if he will be able to replicate the form that he has shown in Portugal and has shown in the Championship previously. However, if he does find that same form and Arsenal do secure his services then they are more than capable of finally getting one over Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. 

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