In need of another attacker following the departures of Serge Gnabry and Claudio Pizarro, Werder Bremen have found themselves a powerful and unselfish one in Ishak Belfodil.
A second-half surge last season saw Werder go from worrying about relegation to falling just short of qualifying for Europe. Much of that was down to the form of Max Kruse – who scored 13 of his 15 goals in 2017 – and his partner-in-crime Serge Gnabry.
After netting 11 league goals in 2016/17, Gnabry left for Hoffenheim via Bayern Munich and with veteran Claudio Pizarro’s contract expiring, the Green-Whites were suddenly a little short in the forward department.
On deadline day though, the four-time Bundesliga winners signed Ishak Belfodil on loan from Standard Liege. A tall, robust frontman, he had reignited his career in Belgium before coming close to joining Everton in January.
The 25-year-old has had no shortage of suitors since then so Werder were delighted to get their man before the summer transfer window closed.
“Ishak is a talented striker with a big physical presence,” Werder sporting director Frank Baumann said. “He is the perfect type of striker that we wanted to bring in.”
“I’m not a static attacker,” he told La Derniere Heure last year. “I like to run, to call for the ball, to free up space. I’m not a number nine but a number 10 – I like to play behind another forward. But I can play anywhere up front.”
Having started out at Lyon and represented France at youth level, Belfodil acknowledged last year that he lacked patience when he was younger. After excelling with Parma in his first full season in Italy, he lasted just six months at Inter Milan.
Belfodil returned to Parma in 2014 but when they ran into financial difficulty, he wound up at Baniyas in Abu Dhabi. “When I left Parma, they [Baniyas] made me an offer that was difficult to refuse,” he told L’Equipe after deciding to return to Europe last year. “Today I’ve realised that money doesn’t make me happy.”
Watch: Bremen's top 10 goals from 2016/17
Belfodil, who on his day was like a wrecking ball for Standard last season, said it was an “easy choice” to move to Germany. “They’re a big club with a lot of tradition,” he said of Werder. “When you have the chance to move to the Bundesliga, you don’t hesitate.”
The Algeria international added that he had rejected lucrative offers from England and Russia and stressed that linking up with Alexander Nouri’s team was a sporting decision. The 2004 Bundesliga champions will hope to reap the benefits of that choice. Standing well over six foot, Belfodil will offer a bulky target in attack but he is a player who likes the ball at his feet.
Having moved from Algeria to France as a child, he played street football around the Paris suburbs and developed into an effective dribbler who creates goals as well as scores them.
Standard offered Belfodil a chance to show that his love for football was still strong and he took only 11 minutes to score a thumping headed goal during a barnstorming debut against Genk last September.
He threw himself into his new role and soon learned that the “DNA” of the 10-time Belgian champions demanded that his work rate should be high both on and off the ball.
“Defensively, Standard instilled in me an idea that is required for you to reach the highest level,” he said last October. “In modern-day football, if you don’t defend you don’t get picked.”
During his first five months in Belgium, Belfodil demonstrated a voracious appetite on the field and weighed in with nine goals and five assists. He played a direct part in a third of Standard’s goals, making him the third-most efficient player in the league at that stage of the season.
“He has the ability to impose his psychological impact on opponents because he has confidence at the moment,” Belgian football analyst Alex Teklak said last December. “From his first actions – his first control of the ball – he sends a message to his opponents by setting the bar very high.”
Belfodil also shone in Europe last season by scoring three goals in the UEFA Europa League group stage - including a free-kick that his Werder predecessor Pizarro would have been proud of.
The aborted transfer to Everton – as well as managerial changes at Standard – resulted in Belfodil’s form dipping in the spring before he had nasal surgery in May.
He still finished with 14 league goals, however, and was voted by his fellow professionals as the sixth-best player in last season’s Belgian Pro League. Belfodil was also rewarded with the Lion Belge, an award given to the best player of Arab origin in the top flight.
With no more transfer speculation to trouble him, Werder’s number 29 should now be fully focused on trying to crack the Bundesliga. If he manages to dominate defenders in Germany the way he did in Belgium, then his new club’s fans will be in for a treat.