Joshua Zirkzee Grabbing His Second Chance in Italy with Both Hands at Bologna

From Robin van Persie to Marco van Basten, from Patrick Kluivert to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Netherlands has been blessed with a plethora of legendary strikers. The next Dutch forward to cement his status amongst the greats could very well be Joshua Zirkzee, who is turning heads for a Bologna side that is pushing for Champions League football under Thiago Motta.


The Dutch striker is turning heads in this 2023/24 season for Bologna in their rise to the upper echelon of the Serie A table. His second time in Italy is going a lot better than his previous time in Italy in 2021. At this time three years ago, Zirkzee was playing at Bayern Munich and had played 17 times in all competitions, scoring four goals.


In January 2021, the Dutch attacker would join Parma to help with their fight for Serie A survival. It was a baptism of fire with the Bayern Munich loanee only featuring just four times from the bench which calculated of just 109 minutes of football. Zirkzee did feature in Parma’s only win that year in the league that part of the 2020/21 season which was a 2-0 home win over AS Roma.


He missed four games from late February 2021 to mid-March 2021 with Lumbago. Then missed the final 10 games of the season with a knee ligament injury, in that time Parma only picked up one point out of a possible 30 which was a 2-2 draw at home to Benevento, then went on to lose the next nine games in a row to finish bottom of the Serie A standings with three wins all season and picked up just 20 points from 38 games played. 


Thiago Motta’s Bologna: Daring to Dream at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara


The 2021/22 season was more of a happier time on the pitch for Joshua Zirkzee, on loan in Belgium to RSC Anderlecht, Zirkzee amassed over 3,000 minutes on the pitch featuring 47 times, scoring 18 in all competitions, and laying off 13 assists in the process. That form in Belgium while on loan at RSC Anderlecht made Italian club Bologna, then managed by the late great Sinisa Mihajlovic, to take a punt on him and give him a second chance in Italian football, this time on a permanent basis for €8 million, with Bayern retaining a 50% sell-on clause and a buyback clause in the region of €20-25m.


Zirkzee signed a four-year deal up until June 2026, with Bologna putting a €40 million release clause to protect their prized asset. Unfortunately, Sinisa Mihajlovic was sacked after Bologna’s poor start to the season where the club picked up just three points from the opening five games. Just three months later Mihajlovic sadly passed away on December 16, 2022, losing his 3.5-year battle with Leukemia. 


Thiago Motta, who previously coached Genoa and Spezia, was named as Bologna’s new manager and changed the fortunes of the club on the pitch. Bologna finished in the dizzy heights of ninth in the Serie A standings and missed out on European Football by just a couple of points after Juventus ban from European Football. For the new signing he had to play the waiting game, he was down the pecking order in the forward line and was the deputy to Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic who was the main man at the club.


This form for Arnautovic in Serie A with ten goals in 21 appearances got him the move back to Inter Milan. Zirkzee played second fiddle and featured 21 times in all competitions with two goals and two assists, both goals would come in Serie A against Napoli and in the final game of last season in a 3-2 away win over Lecce. But the 2023/24 season, his second season at Bologna has been a different story for himself and for the club.


Bologna are one of the stories this season in Italian and European football. Behind the story of Girona’s rise in La Liga is Bologna in Serie A who are turning heads now. Currently sitting fourth in the Serie A standings with 31 points from the opening 17 rounds of action., they enjoyed a stellar week that saw them humiliate Roma 2-0 in Serie A at home before traveling to the San Siro and edging Inter via extra time goals from Sam Beukema and Dan Ndoye, ending Inter’s chance of a third straight Coppa Italia, before beating Atalanta 1-0 courtesy of Lewis Ferguson’s late winner.



For Joshua Zirkzee, it has been a breakout season in Serie A; after playing a secondary role to Marko Arnautovic last season, he is now the main man at the club. His numbers this season back it up also. Playing in Thiago Motta’s free-flowing 4-2-3-1 system, Zirkzee and co are enjoying themselves this season with elegant easy-on-the-eye, one-touch football.


Eight goals and four assists from 19 games in all competitions which included four goals in his last six Serie A matches, a brace against Salernitana in a 2-1 away win, one each against Fiorentina in a 2-1 away defeat and a goal in a 2-0 win over Torino. Then in the Coppa Italia, he picked up two late assists for Bologna in the 2-1 away win at the San Siro against Inter Milan, and he’ll be looking to close out the year with a trip to Udinese on Saturday.


After a disappointing spell in Parma in 2021 and time away in Belgium, Joshua Zirkzee is finally finding a home in Bologna, and with 7 goals, only Romelu Lukaku (8), Olivier Giroud (8), Domenico Berardi (9) and Lautaro Martinez (15) have found the back of the net with greater regularity in Serie A. He has propelled Bologna to the upper echelon of Italian football, and he may just have what it takes to land them a first-European qualification in over two decades.


By: Scot Munroe / @scot_munroe

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images