Bayern Munich teenager Joshua Zirkzee's goals-to-minutes ratio is bettered only by Erling Haaland in the Bundesliga. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the man whose long-term plan is to fill the boots of Robert Lewandowski...
1) Three shots, three goals
With Bayern being held to a 1-1 draw by Freiburg on Matchday 16 of the 2019/20 campaign, interim coach Hansi Flick had nothing to lose and everything to gain by handing 18-year-old Zirkzee a 90th-minute Bundesliga debut. It took the Dutchman less than 120 seconds and only one touch to reward his mentor and set the record champions on the road to a last-gasp 3-1 win. History repeated itself later that week as Zirkzee stepped off the bench to break the deadlock against Wolfsburg, paving the way for Serge Gnabry - as he did in Freiburg - to put the seal on the victory. Another goal with his first strike on his full debut in Hoffenheim on Matchday 24 made it three goals from as many attempts spanning just 26 minutes of Bundesliga football. For added context, Haaland reached the same number of German top-flight goals for Borussia Dortmund in three minutes less.
2) The next Lewandowski?
Zirkzee's inclusion in the starting line-up for the game at Hoffenheim came about after Lewandowski suffered a leg injury in Bayern's UEFA Champions League last-16 first leg win at Chelsea. Flick had been widely expected to plump for Gnabry or Thomas Müller in the lone striker's role, but ultimately went like-for-like, calling on a forward with designs on taking over the mantle from the legendary Lewandowski himself. "I want to become the number one striker at Bayern - that's always been my objective," Zirkzee told Dutch publication Voetbal International. "His timing, how he shields the ball, his sprints towards goal - I'm taking in everything Lewandowski does."
3) Sticky Toffees
But for Mother Nature, Lewandowski may never have made it to the Bundesliga. As the story goes, a volcanic ash cloud prevented a flight he was supposed to be on from taking off, scuppering a potential summer 2008 move from Lech Poznan to Blackburn Rovers. Two years later, he joined Dortmund, where he forged his reputation as the Bundesliga's record non-German goalscorer and most complete No.9 of his generation. Zirkzee was even closer to a move to the English Premier League, following a successful trial with Everton as a 16 year old. "I got the feeling from Everton that there was a good chance I could really become something there," he recalled. "They even offered me a contract whilst I was on trial." Sadly for the Toffees, their plan came unstuck when Bayern came calling. "After I first trained with Bayern, I knew that's who I wanted to join."
Watch: Relive Joshua Zirkzee's game-changing Bundesliga debut
4) Dutch delight
Zirkzee was 17 by the time he linked up with the Bayern U17s team, following a one-year stint in the Feyenoord youth section. The former Hekelinger, Spartaan and Ado Den Haag youngster had already won 10 youth international caps for the Netherlands U15s, 16s and 17s, before being promoted to the U18s shortly after moving to the Bavarian capital. He scored 16 times in 19 appearances for the Bayern U17s and another 16 in 21 outings for the U19s - form he successfully replicated on the international circuit. After helping himself to two goals in seven games for the U18s, he hit eight in nine for the U19s, and Netherlands legend Willem van Hanegem believes the Bayern prospect could even be the Oranje's wildcard at the UEFA Euro 2020 finals. "If that guy can continue to develop, he might be an option to fill the vacancy of [the injured] Memphis Depay." he said. "Age means nothing. Do you think they will let someone in Bayern come in who is not ready for it?"
5) Mr. Debut
Until Zirkzee gets the call from the senior Netherlands team, Nigerian fans will retain hope that he could switch allegiance to his parents' homeland. It seems unlikely the Dutch will overlook the teenager, however, given his impactful tendencies. Zirkzee has scored debut goals for the Feyenoord U19s and Bayern U17s, and found the net on his maiden unofficial outings with the reserves and pros, as well as his aforementioned Bundesliga bow. That latter milestone puts him behind Roque Santa Cruz (18 years and 12 days) and current teammate Alphonso Davis (18 years, and 135 days) as Bayern's third youngest Bundesliga goalscorer. He is also the club's fifth Netherlands-born Bundesliga marksman after Jan Wouters, Mark van Bommel, Roy Makaay and Arjen Robben. Eclipsing Robben's 99-goal haul and giving Lewandowski a run for his money in the all-time scoring stakes is a distinct possibility.