Joshua Zirkzee: The Dutch teen sensation keeping Bayern's title dreams alive

For any player to step into one of Europe’s best teams and make an immediate impact is difficult. For a teenager who has played just four minutes of senior football it is even harder.

Nobody told Joshua Zirkzee that.

With Bayern Munich locked at 1-1 with Freiburg in their penultimate game before the Bundesliga winter break and the clock ticking past the 90th minute, Zirkzee was ushered from the bench by interim head coach Hansi Flick to make his league debut. Philippe Coutinho, who just three days earlier had netted a hat-trick against Werder Bremen, was the man who Zirkzee would replace.

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“That can’t be true!” were the exclamations from one visibly angry Bayern supporter who rose from his seat next to the press box. “It is 1-1 and we are bringing on an amateur in added time.”

Exactly 104 seconds later, and with Zirkzee having touched the ball just once, that anger turned to jubilation.

Zirkzee’s first ever touch of the ball in Bundesliga play saw him latch onto a pass from Serge Gnabry and find the back of the net. Gnabry added a third even deeper into stoppage time, but there was only one name on everyone’s lips come full-time.

Fast-forward to Saturday and Bayern, this time at home at Allianz Arena, were struggling to break down a dogged Wolfsburg defence. With the game goalless, Flick again turned to Zirkzee, this time giving him seven minutes to make an impact.

He needed just two.

Again it was the 18-year-old’s first touch of the match that ended with the ball in the back of the net, with Bavaria in no doubt as to who they will spend Christmas toasting. It is not unfair to suggest that Bayern could be eight points behind leaders RB Leipzig at the halfway point of the campaign. Their young Dutch striker has assured the point deficit is just four.

Zirkzee has been with Bayern since 2017 after the German champions beat off stiff competition to sign the talented teenager from Feyenoord. His first season with the club’s Under-17 side saw him return 15 goals and nine assists in 16 matches, with that form earning him the opportunity to spend pre-season with the senior squad.

His sophomore year was just as encouraging as he bagged 12 goals in 14 appearances for the U19s as well as four goals for Bayern Munich II. However, it was not expected that he would be able to have this kind of impact on the first team quite so soon, even if his talent has never been questioned by those within the club.

“He is definitely a special striker type that cannot be found often in the modern game,” Sebastien Hoeness, who worked with Zirkzee in the U19s squad, told  Goal  and  SPOX  back in March.

“He is tall and athletic, but still has a smooth movement and a strong movement. He is also two-footed and is strong in one-on-one situations.”

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic concurred with Hoeness when asked about the Netherlands U19 international’s potential following his match-winning display in Freiburg, telling reporters: “He is a really good boy and one of the greatest talents at our academy. He is tall but still has great ball control and a very good technique.

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“By training with the senior professionals he learns a lot and will certainly develop into a really good player with great class.”

One of those players who Zirkzee has been sharing the training pitch with his David Alaba, a veteran of 250 matches for Bayern. He has been hugely impressed with what he has seen.

“Joshua has integrated well into the team from day one, he picks things up quickly and he always wants to learn. It is very nice that he is being rewarded,” Alaba said. 

“He is a boy with a lot of potential. He has a talent that not everyone has. But talent alone is not enough. He must certainly try to work even more.”

That is a sentiment shared by Hoeness, who added: “Like all talents of his age, he still has to work on himself constantly. He must know that he has not achieved anything yet and never be satisfied. His goal must be to achieve the best possible.”

While that is fine career advice, Zirkzee can be forgiven for giving himself a slap on the back as he enjoys the holiday season. In the home of fairy tales, Zirkzee is busy writing his own barely believable story.

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