Benjamin Nygren: a star in the making
The season in Sweden may only be a month old but already there’s no doubt who the early star of the show is. Benjamin Nygren is just seventeen years old, but the young talent has been a revelation. With four goals and three assists in seven appearances for IFK Goteborg, the forward has made more contributions leading to goals than any other player in Sweden’s Allsvenskan so far, marking him out as one of the most exciting and lethal players in the league. That he is doing this at such a young age is nothing short of remarkable.
A left-footed forward with intelligent movement, Nygren has a cute eye for goal and is always looking for opportunities to shoot, whether inside the box or from distance. There’s also variety in that left foot – he shoots with power but also has a very deft touch, caressing the ball into the net when necessary as demonstrated by his lovely low finish in a 3-0 win for IFK Goteborg against Elfsborg.
In that game, positioned just outside the box, he simply took his chance the first time and rolled it into the far corner of the net. His goal against Djurgardens was beautifully taken, arriving in the six-yard box with perfect timing and reacting quickly to turn a low cross in with aplomb, the first time. It’s this opportunist streak that makes Benjamin Nygren so dangerous – and such a joy to watch too.
Nygren’s third goal of the season came from the penalty spot – another sign of maturity for such a big team to be handing that responsibility to someone who isn’t even old enough to carry a driving license in Sweden. “Not even Zlatan Ibrahimovic carried such big expectations on his shoulders when he was in Sweden,” Nygren’s manager, Poya Asbaghi, has raved. Nygren’s fourth goal came in the 2-4 away win against Sirius.
According to the stats, in his first team career so far Nygren is averaging 1.26 shots per game at IFK. A detailed analysis of his game shows us that he tends to drift out to the right-hand side in IFK’s fluid formation, which switches from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 often, depending on the game state. But he can operate as a number nine or 10 even if he does tend to find space out wide.
It’s not just the goal streak that has raised eyebrows with this youngster though. Nygren’s creativity and nous in the final third have perhaps been even more impressive than the nature of his goals. Knowing when to keep the ball and when to release it to a teammate in a better position, Nygren has provided three assists so far, one a smart cutback, one a pinpoint cross.
The best, though, was his second assist against Elfsborg – a game in which he was electric, scoring and assisting twice to make himself the talk of Swedish football.
With his team on the break, Nygren charged forward, but it was the intelligence to wait patiently for his teammate Sebastian Ohlsson to make a run on the inside right channel, guarding the ball as he shifted towards goal before releasing his man at exactly the right moment. The move looks easy but so many players – even experienced pros – get that wrong. They dribble too far and lose possession, make a poor or wrong pass or simply delay it until it’s too late. Here, the 17-year-old judged it perfectly.
Nygren is a player I’ve been aware of for years since watching him at a youth tournament in Sweden back in 2016. I liken him to Teddy Sheringham, the former England international and Champions League winner with Manchester United, in the way he makes intelligent runs, plays off the front man and ghosts into pockets of space in and around the area, ready to pounce at the right moment. Like Sheringham, not only is he hungry for goals and very good with the ball at his feet, he’s also a real threat in the air, despite not being fully physically mature yet.
Speaking to those who have worked closely with the youngster, they rave about Nygren’s “clear head” and “a clear picture of the game, which allows him to make good decisions.”
One coach praised his maturity, citing decision-making and intelligence as his biggest strengths. This is evident in the way he has risen through the youth ranks at IFK with very little fuss, meeting every challenge that has been posted along the way. Watching him shine at the top level of Swedish football so soon in his career, you forget he is only 17.
As well as goals and assists, Nygren’s other metrics are promising. He has a high shot on target percentage (55.6%) – the joint second best in the entire division – and has completed an impressive 57.9% of his dribbles so far this season, averaging 2.66 per game. A 79.7% pass completion rate is also promising, while his 64 aerial duels per game this season ranks him fourth in the whole league for trying to win the ball in the air.
Sure, this is over the space of just 11 games so far in Nygren’s budding career, and we shouldn’t get carried away. But the numbers bode well.
Nygren was thrown into the thick of it at the back end of last season after a very poor campaign for IFK Goteborg – one of Sweden’s biggest and most successful clubs. The Gothenburg-based team were a candidate for relegation at one point after a torrid few years. But after sealing survival with a few games remaining they decided to throw in some youngsters, part of a new long-term philosophy aimed at integrating more academy players.
In a nothing game against Orebro on the final day of the 2018 season, Nygren was given just his second start for IFK, and he answered it emphatically with two fantastic goals. The first was a composed left foot finish, the second another lovely side-foot finish passed into the net, this time with his right foot. He has many different types of goals in his locker.
With such a strong start to his career, it’s no surprise that clubs around Europe are starting to sit up and take an interest. IFK will be desperate to keep him, but you expect their financial realities will overrule any emotional desire to keep their academy starlet. The club is in a tough spot financially and if the price is right, he will be sold.
The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that Nygren’s contract expires in 2020. He is the shining symbol of this new, entertaining, fluid IFK Goteborg side and as such, it would sting their fans badly to lose him. But the fact is, if they can’t tie the teenager down soon it may be difficult to keep him. Manchester City is just one club thought to be watching.
While it would be good to see Benjamin stay in Sweden and continue his development, at least for another year or so, the harsh realities of the transfer market make that an uncertain prospect the better he does.
“There is a very, very high interest in Benjamin,” IFK club director Max Markusson has recently commented. It’s not hard to see why.
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