Long Reads

Alexander Sorloth at Trabzonspor: a career reinvigorated

The mantle of a king, by definition, represents ‘a person or thing regarded as the finest or most important in their sphere or group’. When it comes to sport, a title weighing so woodenly on a man’s shoulders is only befitting for the very best in their habitual grounds.

On one hand, you have Virat ‘King’ Kohli, widely considered as one of cricket’s greatest ever batsmen; on the other, LeBron ‘King’ James, another athlete unrivalled in his field. In football, however, the title ‘King of the North’ has, this year, been bestowed upon an unlikely recipient.

After an underwhelming year at Selhurst Park in 2018, it’s safe to say there were a few surprised Crystal Palace fans that saw their seemingly substandard striker, Alexander Sorloth, join Champions League outfit RB Leipzig this summer.

Those who aren’t removed from football outside of Europe’s elite leagues and, in some cases, English football alone, will know that the towering target man, anointed ‘King of the North’ by Norwegian teammate Erling Haaland for his goalscoring exploits, has done more than enough to attract such accomplished attention since departing to the Super Lig from South London.

Upon his arrival at Trabzonspor, Sorloth had netted just 32 league goals in the five seasons since his senior debut at Rosenborg in 2014. Traversing from Norway to Holland before Denmark and Belgium either side of England, the forward showed streaks of his potential but had never sustained these across multiple seasons.

It soon became apparent, however, that the Black Sea Storm had a tsunami on the horizon that would submerge defences across the Super Lig. The different strands to Sorloth’s game were beginning to show in unison. With a stature standing six-foot-four, unrelenting athleticism and dynamic diversions off the last man or through the channels, not to mention a desire and devastating ability to score goals, the frontman was simply unstoppable at his best.

Following an inconsistent start to the league campaign, Trabzonspor soon found their rhythm with a 4-1 victory at home to Besiktas, Sorloth scoring the third in a rampant showcase of superiority against a side sure to be competing with them at the table’s top end.

From then on, the Norwegian was constantly prowling in and around the box, fastening fear into opposing defenders with impetuous movement and effortless efficiency in front of goal as a cannonade of crosses came his way game after game. His teammates had a terrifying talisman to play off and play into knowing opportunities would arise, and my word were they using it to full effect.

By February, Sorloth had scored fifteen and assisted four in 18 Super Lig appearances as they welcomed third-placed Fenerbahce to the Senol Gunes Stadium. On the back of 6-2 and 6-0 home wins in which their star striker scored five and assisted one, Huseyin Cimsir’s men were in second and full of confidence with their title credentials in question. Sorloth would, of course, score again to give his side a crucial 2-1 victory, subsequently starting an outstanding series of displays in season-defining fixtures.

Two weeks on, yet another huge goal, his 17th of the Super Lig campaign, helped his side stretch their lead at the top of the table to four points with a 2-1 win over Sivasspor. Next up, a trip to Besiktas saw Sorloth bag a brace, the second of which came in injury time, to strengthen his paramount importance to the team in securing a 2-2 draw almost single-handedly.

After another league victory, attentions were turned to a two-legged Turkish Cup encounter with Fenerbahce with a place in the final at stake. As was the case in their league tie, Trabzonspor were 2-1 winners, and Sorloth was on the scoresheet once more. Fundamentally, it was unfair. The forward was stronger and faster than every one of his foes. In this instance, he brushed Luiz Gustavo aside like he wasn’t there, and this was a feature of his game that Turkish football had become all too familiar with, before his momentum was brought to an abrupt halt in March.

When the season restarted in June, Trabzonspor were eight games away from a first league title in 36 years, and one match away from a Turkish Cup final. Their first five games back saw Trabzonspor win three and draw two, with Sorloth scoring four and assisting three, netting two in the return cup leg in Istanbul as Trabzonspor came away 3-1 winners, whilst shushing Emre Belozoglu in the process. A level of shithousery symbolic both of Sorloth’s arrogance, but also his brilliance and the subsequent endeavour shown by Emre to get him sent off.

The Big Three’s infrangible grip on the Super Lig was slipping as another stellar Sorloth performance in Istanbul brushed Galatasaray aside. By then, though, it was one of their city rivals that had climbed Trabzonspor to claim top spot. After a 12-match unbeaten run consisting of nine wins and three draws, Istanbul Basaksehir found themselves in the driving seat with four games to play.

Sorloth’s side were on a 15-game unbeaten streak stretching back to mid-December themselves. However, a draw in their next match against Antalyaspor was the sixth in their last 10 outings, meaning they had fallen four points adrift of top spot going into the final three fixtures.

Defeat at Denizlispor all but ended their dream of Super Lig triumph, but that didn’t stop their danger man. Sorloth marked his last match at the Senol Gunes Stadium with two goals, though it didn’t prevent Trabzonspor from losing back-to-back matches for the first time all season.

On the final day, he netted another in a 2-1 win at Kayserispor to take his league tally to 24, two ahead of runner up Papiss Cisse. The King of the North also contributed eight Super Lig assists in a quite remarkable season, though he had one game left to set his name into the history of Trabzonspor.

29th July, 2020. The opponents, Alanyaspor. The man of the match; the scorer and provider of both goals, you already know who. As always, Sorloth ran the game from the spearhead of the attack. Holding up play in central areas to bring his team forward, peeling wide to find space and create openings for others, then displaying composure in key areas to maintain the threat of every attack. The Norwegian was doing the job of a front three all on his own.

Midway through the first half, a long ball found him out on the left, where he drove forward before delivering an inch-perfect cross into the path of Abdulkadir Omur to score. Then, what felt like an age later as Alanyaspor sent centre-back Steven Caulker forward in search of an equaliser, the ball broke to Sorloth on the halfway line. That pace, that power, both equally unfair – especially ten minutes into injury time – prevailed as he galloped clear to guide the Black Sea Storm to glory.

For earning their first trophy in ten years, in a year when the Big Three all missed out on a top two spot for 39 years, Alexander Sorloth will long live in the annals of not only Trabzonspor, but Turkish football as a whole.

Although his start to life in Leipzig hasn’t quite seen him showcase the form he unleashed last season, it was a return to Turkish soil that brought his first goal for the Red Bulls. It was a late winner in a 4-3 Champions League group win over Istanbul Basaksehir, ending any hopes of his opponents advancing to the knockouts. A parting gift to a club where he will forever be hailed a hero, here’s hoping the King of the North will kickstart his conquest of Europe’s elite from here on in.

Article by Brad Jones via Football’s Finest