Bayern Munich teenager Joshua Zirkzee has been tipped for a long and goal-laden career at the top by former Schalke and Netherlands striker Youri Mulder.
Zirkzee was promoted to the Bayern first team towards the end of November 2019, and came off the bench to score with his first touch in a last-gasp win at Freiburg on his Bundesliga debut less than a month later. The 18-year-old repeated the trick on his second top-flight outing as the record champions ground out a year-ending victory over Wolfsburg.
Mulder, who netted 32 goals in 177 Bundesliga appearances and lifted the 1996/97 UEFA Cup and two DFB Cups with Schalke between 1993 and 2002, believes that headline-grabbing double is just the start for his compatriot.
"This guy has a massive career ahead of him, he's a serious talent," Mulder told SportBild. "He's got a great build for a striker, a real nose for goal and he can really play. He's just a fantastic footballer."
The Bundesliga has housed some of Dutch football's biggest talents down the years, including Roy Maakay, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben. The latter enjoyed a storied 10-year stint at Bayern before hanging up his boots at the end of the 2018/19 season. He also captained the Netherlands, claiming runners-up and bronze medals at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups respectively.
Mulder is in no doubt Zirkzee - a scorer of eight goals in nine games for the Netherlands U19s - has what it takes to make the step up to the senior national side if he continues to impress for Bayern.
"We're looking for strikers after our main guys Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen suffered serious injuries," explained Mulder, who struck three times in nine appearances for the Oranje in the 1990s. "If Zirkzee keeps developing like this, it won't be long before he enters the conversation.
"I was more of a battering ram - Zirkzee is far better technically. He's calm and composed, and mentally looks very strong. I have the feeling nothing phases him."
Zirkzee had played in 13 third-tier matches for the Bayern reserves in 2019/20 without scoring, whilst tallying six goals in as many competitive matches for the U19s before being called up to the senior squad on a permanent basis, along with Leon Dajaku, Oliver Batista Meier and Sarpreet Singh, by interim coach Hansi Flick.
He'd already been given a taste of first-team action by former boss Niko Kovac on Bayern's summer 2019 US tour, but Mulder credits Flick for helping his countryman realise his potential.
"It says a lot about Hansi Flick's understanding of human nature that he put the guy in when it matters - not just when the score was 3-0 or 4-0," Mulder said. "Flick knowingly took a risk, and his plan worked brilliantly. He's got full faith in Zirkzee, and knows: 'I can always count on him, even when games are on a knife-edge.'"
Watch: Relive Joshua Zirkzee's game-changing Bundesliga debut!
Zirkzee can expect plenty more first-team opportunities in the months ahead, with Bayern battling for silverware on all three fronts. The record champions are four points behind leaders RB Leipzig at the halfway stage of the Bundesliga campaign; through to the UEFA Champions League last 16 - where they face English Premier League side Chelsea - and have a DFB Cup tie with Hoffenheim to look forward to.
Regardless of whether Zirkzee's digging the record champions out of a hole or warming the bench, Mulder says the former Feyenoord youth player should simply "enjoy the moment and make the most of it".
"To be able to develop in the shadow of Robert Lewandowski is an ideal situation for such a talent," he continued. "You can learn a lot from such a world-class striker. Bayern is undoubtedly the best place for Zirkzee."
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