Football Features

How Alexander Sorloth transformed from a Crystal Palace reject to a Real Madrid ‘target’

By Ollie Thomas

Palace news: Sorloth has gone from Ozil-esque reject to Real Madrid 'transfer target'

Published: 11:10, 7 March 2020

Erling Braut Haaland, you’re not alone.

Such has been the remarkable season that the Norweigan striker has had that few realise he has a compatriot who has been, well, nearly just as incredible as the wonderkid. Namely, Alexander Sorloth.

Premier League fans might recognise the name Sorloth and think: “What? Am I thinking of the right person?” Yes, you are. To put it bluntly, Sorloth has torn the Super Lig (Turkey’s top flight) apart this season for Trabzonspor.

He’s scored 19 league goals already and 25 in all competitions this season. To put that iin perspective, Palace (his parent club) have only managed 25 as a collective this season. Such has been his form, European giants Real Madrid have both reportedly sent scouts to watch the striker, who now seems to have a price tag well in excess of the £9 million Palace initially paid for him.

The 24-year-old is the primary reason Daniel Sturridge was limited to just 11 appearances this season before his contract was cancelled after being banned from football for six months.

Crystal Palace ended up agreeing to loan Sorloth to Turkey for two seasons in the summer after enduring, in his father’s words, a “tough time” that dented his confidence at Selhurst Park. His agent recently confirmed Trabzonspor have an option to buy and although he would not comment on any details, reports in Turkey say the fee is around £5 million. Considering the links to Madrid and other Premier League clubs the situation would ordinarily appear to have all the ingredients of a lucrative bidding war. So one must question…

How did this happen?

Some of you die-hard Ultimate Team fans may remember Sorloth’s ‘overpowered’ FIFA 18 inform card. Until the January transfer window in 2018, very few people knew about the forward. He was smashing goals in for fun for FC Midtjylland in the 17/18 season, when he managed 15 in all competitions in just the first half of that season, attracting the interest of a number of Premier League clubs.

Sorloth eventually moved to Palace on Deadline Day as the club were in the middle of a striker crisis (some things never change, clearly) with the hope that he would be able to add some much-needed goals to Palace’s ranks.

Sorloth seemed ready-made for the Premier League. He stands at 6’4 and is a well-built young player with a turn of pace to go with his imposing physicality. He had an insatiable appetite for goals and a hammer of a left foot. Aged just 22 when Steve Parish lured him to Croydon for under £10 million, on paper it seemed a cracking deal.

His move could have gone so, so differently. He was thrust into the team very quickly (which is rare for Roy Hodgson, who likes to give his players time to get used to their surroundings) as Palace were seriously struggling for attacking options; their main man Wilfried Zaha was missing and the Eagles needed goals and they needed them fast.

He was denied by an unbelievable save from Jordan Pickford on his debut for the Eagles before hitting the post and having a goal wrongly disallowed against Chelsea three games later. If any of them had gone in, who knows what could have happened? As it was, that trip to West London was to be his last appearance of the 17/18 season.

Off the mark but off to Belgium

Sorloth finally scored his first Palace goal in a 1-0 win against Swansea in the League Cup. Was this to be the start of something special? No, it wasn’t.

The Palace supporters are generally a patient bunch – you would be, given the selection of strikers they’ve had to endure over the past few years – but Sorloth’s performances were starting to test them.

His lack of goals was not the main problem: it was an apparent lack of effort. He has the unfortunate Mesut Ozil demeanour of total disinterest at times, which is fine when you’re making things happen. But Sorloth was not. He would often shirk challenges, avoid running the channels and loiter on the edge of the box rather than attacking either post.

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Neil Warnock said on his Soccer Saturday debut that “you would have sooner played yourself” than Sorloth during his time in England and eventually, after missing a golden opportunity for a late leveller against Spurs, Sorloth was shipped off to Belgian side KAA Gent.

A coming of age

Five goals in 22 appearances in Belgium is hardly something to write home about but it was still five times as many goals that Sorloth had managed for the Eagles. He was getting somewhere.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that his career for Palace was over, and thus his move to Turkey and Trabzonspor was hardly a surprise. His output, however, certainly was. 36 games, 25 goals, seven assists. There’s a player in there somewhere.

Few would have predicted that, come March, Sorloth would be forced to play down a potential move to Los Blancos in the national media but that is exactly what has ended up happening. Zidane and Co. are reportedly ‘keeping tabs’ on the striker, as well as Bayern Munich, who reportedly sent scouts to watch Sorloth in the Turkish Cup semi-final clash with Fenerbahce.

Sorloth is now expected to partner Haaland up front for Norway as they bid to qualify for Euro 2020 this month. Should he impress alongside Dortmund’s newest star, interest from Europe’s elite will only intensify for a player who has gone from a low-level Premier League striker to the newly-nicknamed ‘King of the North’. Who can top that?

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