Football News

Richairo Zivkovic: Sheffield Utd’s new signing has a chance to show why Liverpool scouted him back in his ‘new Robben’ days

By Mohamed Moallim

Richairo Zivkovic to Sheffield Utd transfer analysis

Published: 21:33, 31 January 2020

Sheffield United completed the loan signing of Richairo Zivkovic on deadline day.

The 23-year-old centre-forward temporarily joins this season’s Premier League surprise package from Chinese League One outfit Changchun Yatai.

Who is Zivkovic? Five things Sheffield United fans need to know…

  • Age: 23
  • Best position: Centre-forward
  • Career path so far: FC Groningen (2013-14) > Ajax (2014-15) > Willem II (2015-16) > FC Utrecht (2016-17) > KV Oostende (2017-19) > Changchun Yatai (2019-20) > Sheffield United (2020-)
  • Career appearances/goals: 190/61
  • “He is a pleasant boy to work with and an intelligent player.” – Erik ten Hag

His arrival comes a day after the Blades – who are determined to finish as the best of the rest in the Premier League this season – secured the services of Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge. But to call this a spur-of-the-moment signing would be unfair.

The Yorkshire-based club had been tracking him for months. Having a member of the institution being fluent in Chinese (the club’s head of football administration Carl Shieber) accelerated their dealings with Zivkovic’s parent club.

A once highly-rated talent, Zivkovic has gone from potentially being the next great Dutch striker to now being tasked with resurrecting that promising career, though it remains to be seen whether he will eventually become a regular fixture under the no-nonsense Chris Wilder.

From nowhere to now here

Zivkovic’s breakthrough at boyhood club FC Groningen immediately drew comparisons with Arjen Robben. Not stylistically speaking, but rather in that here was another homegrown star making an impact at Eredivisie level. After replacing him as the club’s youngest-ever league scorer a number of top European clubs — such as Liverpool, Manchester City and Barcelona — were reportedly keen to acquire his signature.

“All the big clubs in the Netherlands are interested in him but Liverpool scouts are particularly active. They are constantly watching us,” Groningen president Hans Nijland then claimed.

After registering 11 goals across 40 matches in all competitions, he’d secure a lucrative move to regional powerhouse Ajax but it didn’t turn out to be the dream move he anticipated. Up until that point, many envisaged him to one day become the Netherlands’ next top centre-forward.

Competition for places, initially with Frank de Boer at the helm before Peter Bosz replaced him, would see him turn out for Willem II and then FC Utrecht on loan. At the latter, he’d link up with current West Ham striker Sebastian Haller and in 35 matches under the auspices of Erik ten Hag, they’d link up to create four goals (each creating and scoring two). By this point, Zivkovic knew he was no longer part of Ajax’s plans so a move across the border to Belgium beckoned.

His brief spell with KV Oostende saw him register 58 appearances in all competitions, the most he’s notched at a single club so far. These performances, though, wouldn’t attract the attention of clubs with a higher portfolio and like many he’d find himself moving to China, but Zivkovic wouldn’t join a cash-laden Super League outfit instead signing for second-tier Changchun Yatai.

Goalscoring was no problem, 16 goals in 26 matches proved that, and his new employer will be hoping Zivkovic can be equally successful in front of goal. Although based on recent history – in terms of strikers coming from a relatively weaker league and the need to assimilate – patience is advised.

Opportunity knocks

From the onset, Zivkovic’s priority should be to provide Lys Mousset with competition. Like the Frenchman, he’s better when chasing a ball in behind the defence rather than trying to play with his back to goal. Being a good finisher and pacy makes him perfect in a counter-attacking system, though it would be disingenuous to describe Wilder’s team as being reactive.

Because they’ve done their homework – as every serious club does, to be fair – it’s not outlandish to suggest there are plans for him to be regularly involved as Sheffield United seek a top-seven finish, which no one could have envisaged when they secured Premier League promotion last term.

Considering their preferred formation of choice at the moment is a 3-5-2, meaning Wilder prefers to utilise a two-man striker system. This should make Zivkovic feel right at home due to his previous experience in Ten Hag’s 4-3-1-2 shape at Utrecht, so we could realistically see him and Mousset lining up together to forge a speed-demon partnership.

This is ultimately a great opportunity for the Essen-born forward, who can also play from the wings. If he’s able to grab it with both hands then discussions of him playing for an elite side – or representing the Dutch national team – could once again become a possibility.