One to watch: Kasper Dolberg
By S. Willis
OGC Nice had been looking for Mario Balotelli's replacement since January, but it seems they have found their man in the form of Denmark's Kasper Dolberg, who signed from Ajax in the summer for a club-record €20.5m.
OGC Nice went through a dramatic summer wondering whether they would be taken over by INEOS but, on August 26, three rounds into the season and with just days left in the transfer window, the deal was sealed.
Three days later and coach Patrick Vieira had his man. Kasper Dolberg, 22, who had made a name for himself in Eric ten Hag's electric Ajax team, landed in the French Riviera ready to kick goals and take names.
He has already given a glimpse of his powerful presence and cool finishing, but can he power on and be the man to lead Vieira's talented young side to glory? Read on…
Born in Silkeborg, Denmark, on 6 October 1997, Dolberg began his youth career with local club GFG Voel before signing for Danish Superliga side Silkeborg IF and making his senior debut there as a 17-year-old.
However, in January of that year, the Danish youth international striker, who already had 15 caps to his name at U16 and U17, had undertaken to sign for Ajax in the summer after being spotted by John Steen Olsen, the same scout who had unearthed the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Christian Eriksen.
Once at the Dutch club, Dolberg was taken under the wing of Ajax and Netherlands legend Dennis Bergkamp and truly hit his straps, scoring on his competitive Ajax debut - in the Champions League - and going on to score 33 goals in 78 league appearances (45 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions), including a double in his second Eredivisie start.
He helped Ajax to consecutive second-placed finishes in the Netherlands' top flight - and a run to the Europa League final in his first season - before storming to the title in 2018-19, a campaign that also saw the club from the Dutch capital clinch the cup and make it to the Champions League semi-finals.
Meanwhile Dolberg worked his way up to a senior debut for Denmark in November 2016, clinching 13 caps before his big-money move to the French Riviera in the summer of 2019. Injury in the last league game of 2017 saw him miss a long stretch that ultimately meant missing out on the World Cup in Russia, although he did earn a place in Åge Hareide's preliminary 35-man squad.
Style of play:
Although his 1.87m frame and solid build are suited to target-man duties, Dolberg in fact plays more as a number 10, looking for balls in to feet so he can bring his power, pace and technical prowess to begin - and then end - pass-and-move actions near the opponents' area.
Excellent movement between the lines is one of his trademarks, and - as a former winger -he has the pace to find space and then lose his man. Nominally right-footed but also adept with the left, Dolberg possesses clinical finishing and this, along with his propensity to drop deep into midfield and help in the construction of attacking moves, has drawn plenty of comparisons with fellow Ajax alumnus Ibrahimovic.
Dolberg has netted twice in five starts for Patrick Vieira's side, who now sit in ninth place, for an average of one goal per 186 minutes. More importantly, he evidently has the faith of his coach, and has figured in every match since making his OGC Nice debut in Week 5.
What you didn't know:
Despite his imposing frame, Dolberg was painfully shy as a youngster and struggled badly in an initial spell with Silkeborg, actually returning to former outfit GFG Voel before being persuaded to return to the Superliga side a year later. Now, however, his soft-spoken nature should not be mistaken for diffidence or a lack of confidence, according to his father Flemming Rasmussen.
"He can come across as indifferent, nonchalant or even cold but that can be deceptive," Rasmussen said. "When he is on the pitch and facing competition he will think, deep down, that he will get the better of that opponent."
In Ajax's clash with PEC Zwolle in September 2016, Dolberg executed a smart turn in the centre circle, dashing towards goal and evading five defenders before unleashing a thunderbolt of a shot from outside the area that beat the 'keeper and almost shattered the cross-bar - before going in and bouncing out again.
What they said:
"I see many similarities with Marco van Basten. If he does as well as Marco then that's very good of course. They are the same size, same speed and both have a good shot."
- father Flemming Rasmussen after Dolberg hit his first hat-trick for Ajax, in November 2016
"With his deft touch and the way he finished the move, it showed that he's a great player, a true striker. Even if he's not yet 100% physically fit, he showed a lot of good things tonight."
- coach Patrick Vieira after Dolberg bagged his second OGC Nice goal, in the 1-1 draw with LOSC in Week 8