Joshua Zirkzee: The Complete Center Forward

Club: Bologna

Nationality: Netherlands

Position: ST

Preferred Foot: Right

Height: 6’4”/193cm

Age: 23

Strengths: IQ, spatial awareness, link-up play, hold-up play, ambipedal, finishing, athleticism

Areas for Development: less creative responsibility


It has been nothing short of a legendary campaign for Thiago Motta’s Bologna, who have sealed a return to the UEFA Champions League after 60 years, and one of their most important players has been Dutch forward Joshua Zirkzee. Born in Schiedam, Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Nigerian mother, Zirkzee bounced around various clubs before leaving his homeland in 2017 and taking his talents to Bayern Munich.


With Robert Lewandowski leading the line for Bayern, Zirkzee was unable to get regular minutes and decided to head out on loan in January 2021, making the move to Parma only to register just four appearances due to an LCL injury. Seven months later, Zirkzee headed to Anderlecht, where he would excel under the tutelage of Vincent Kompany, finishing as the club’s top scorer with 16 goals and 9 assists in 34 appearances.


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This impressive form in Belgium was enough to draw the attention of Bologna, who signed him for a fee of €8.5 million, with Bayern retaining a 50% resale clause as well as a buyback clause of €25m. Two years later, it’s safe to say that this has been money well spent for the Rossoblú.


An intelligent center forward who’s capable of escaping swamped areas, facilitating the build-up play and dropping deep to help his team evade the press, his combination of elite spatial awareness and technical finesse has made him one of the biggest revelations in Serie A this season.


He may be 6’4″, but he swivels out of pressure like he’s 5’9″, capable of bewildering his opponents with a deft Cruyff turn and taking on defenders with ease. A physically imposing creator whose ball-striking and dribbling prowess is a notch above the rest, he has the fundamentals to be one of the best strikers in Europe.


Zirkzee’s agility for someone so tall is astonishing. Over and over, he’ll turn and shoot in the box with a swift, intricate movement. He is always calling for the ball and escaping his marker with his deft runs, and his powerful ball-carrying sees him drive with conviction at defenses and advance possession into dangerous areas.



Able to turn each way, strike the ball with either foot from distance, maneuver past his opponent with a silky movement or play another attacker through, Zirkzee is a two-way dribbler whose tight turning radius allows him to swivel on a sixpence. Similarly to Zlatan Ibrahimović, he isn’t just a technically gifted target man, but an incredible athlete whose physical prowess extends not only to his quick acceleration, but his jumping ability and range of movement.


Moreover, his hip mobility enables him to reach further distances and evade the pressure with ease. He’s slightly overperforming his expected goals with 11 goals from 9.01 xG, boasting the composure of a veteran and taking the time to place his finishes with calm and serenity. Zirkzee isn’t just a precise finisher, but a powerful ball striker who can even test the goalkeeper with his ‘weaker’ left foot.


Zirkzee’s ambipedal ability is a huge part of what makes him so special. So comfortable striking the ball, spraying long passes, dribbling all on both sides, it makes him such an unpredictable forward and helps him beat his opponent in whatever situation. To add to this, Zirkzee has ton of creative responsibility as there aren’t any elite creators around him and not many other goal-scorers either.


In some games, he doesn’t get enough shots off as he’s got so much creative responsibility and has to drop deeper, moving further away from goal. Zirkzee’s link-up play and hold-up play is outstanding: his awareness of the space around him enables him to anticipate where his teammates will be and what time to play them through.



With quick give-and-go touches to create for those around him, Zirkzee thrives off advanced runners. When charging in behind, he combines well with his teammates and is capable of playing his teammates through on goal with sublime one-twos. He has formed a stellar synergy with Lewis Ferguson, who plays behind Zirkzee and is constantly interchanging positions and feeding off the Dutchman’s passes.


His intelligence as a creator and a facilitator is out of this world. Whether dropping deep to receive, spinning on the half turn to beat defenders up against him, pinging passes with either foot out wide, or arriving in the box, he does it all. With the drop of the shoulder, he’ll overtake his opponent and then show off another one of his best strengths: long passing. Similar to Harry Kane, his ability to pick out wingers with an inch-perfect through ball is world-class.


Zirkzee’s 4 assists are bettered only by Riccardo Calafiori (5), whilst his 11 goals put him ahead of Riccardo Orsolini (10), Ferguson (6), Giovanni Fabian (4) and Alexis Saelemaekers (3). If Zirkzee were to put in a more attack-minded team with lethal goal-scoring wingers and attacking midfielders, he could thrive as the focal point of attack. Skilled at creating chances and interchanging positions with his teammates, Zirkzee’s productivity could skyrocket in one of the biggest teams in Europe.


It is somewhat reminiscent of Kane at Tottenham when he was tasked with handling all of the creative responsibility, dropping deep and facilitating chances whilst also serving as their main source of goals. With better creators around him, better advanced runners, more explosive goal-scoring wingers, he could take his game to a new level. Get more quality finishers and more interchanging attackers around Zirkzee, and he’ll thank you later.


Zirkzee’s physicality and back-to-goal play is impressive. He puts his body in the way of the ball and palms away defenders to keep a bigger distance between them and the ball. This shielding enables him to retain the ball and delay the pass to wait for teammates to join the attack. At 23 years of age, he’s only going to get better.


With a contract until 2026, it is increasingly likely that Zirkzee will depart the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara this summer. The Dutchman is a bargain waiting to happen, with a €40m release clause enabling him to leave for a reasonable fee. Bologna have already lost Thiago Motta to Juventus, and it seems that Zirkzee will become the next to depart for one of the biggest teams in European football — the only question is, where?


1. AC Milan


Milan have actually been linked with him recently and they’re the best option for him if he wanted to stay in Serie A. They play the same shape as Bologna (4-2-3-1) but have a lot better quality creators and finishers. With Christian Pulisic behind Zirkzee and Samuel Chukwueze and Rafael Leão out wide, the chances he would get would be go through the roof, but also he’d have a lot better finishers to play with. The Rossoneri are in need of a center forward after Olivier Giroud’s move to LAFC, and they could be inclined to make the move for a player who has shown similarities to Zlatan Ibrahimović.


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

2. Bayern Munich


As opposed to Milan where he’d be a starter from day one, a move to Bayern would see him compete against one of the best footballers in Europe in Harry Kane. Bayern are in need of a new center forward with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting leaving the Bavarian giants, and with their buyback clause enabling them to sign Zirkzee on a cheap, it could be tempting. However, they already have the European Golden Boot winner as well as one of the best young finishers in Europe in Mathys Tel, meaning that Zirkzee could be disinclined to return to the Allianz Arena and instead prioritize a team where he would be playing week in, week out.

3. Real Madrid


Los Blancos have a lot of midfield talent and loads of goal-scoring wingers, boasting a young attacking core of Rodrygo, Vinícius Júnior, Arda Güler, Jude Bellingham, and they will add Endrick and likely Kylian Mbappé this summer. However, they need a facilitator. Real’s only real center forward is Joselu, who only arrived on loan last summer, and at 34, he is certainly a short-term fix. If Real are to go back to a front three and find a player who can get the most out of Mbappé, Vinícius and co., they would be well-advised to bring in a target man who could link the play and bring other players into dangerous positions.


4. Arsenal


It’s no secret that Arsenal both need and want a new center forward. Despite an improvement defensively this season, their attacking performance has dropped drastically and they don’t have another physical target man to link play and get on the end of crosses. Kai Havertz has played this role but he’s still lacking confidence in front of goal. Gabriel Jesus adds plenty of value but he’s struggled with injuries and has failed to provide a reliable source of goals. Eddie Nketiah is good but he’s not the #9 to take Arsenal to the next level. Zirkzee could be.


Other center forwards like Victor Osimhen can add goal-scoring ability, but not exactly the same link-up play that Zirkzee offers. Mikel Arteta’s system is geared around a physical center forward getting the chances but also having advanced runners to create for. Putting Zirkzee as the #9 for Arsenal with Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Havertz and co. making runs in behind and creating chances, the Dutchman’s goal-scoring output would reach new heights whilst not being a ghost in build-up & link-up play.


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5. Tottenham


After a promising start to life under Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham’s form fell off a cliff during the final months of the campaign, and it is increasingly evident that, apart from Heung-min Son, they don’t have a regular goal contributor. Spurs will be in the market for a center forward who can fill Kane’s void in attack, but it seems that Postecoglou will opt for a #9 who stays centrally, a skilled finisher who presses with relentless intent. As such, they may be better suited for a different profile such as Feyenoord’s Santiago Giménez.


Overall, Joshua Zirkzee has established himself as one of the finest young center forwards on the continent this season, and whilst he has missed out on a call-up to the Dutch national team after suffering a muscular injury in the final weeks of the campaign, it’s surely only a matter of time before Ronald Koeman introduces him into the team. The Oranje have been calling out for a world-class center forward since Robin van Persie’s retirement — they may just have their answer in Zirkzee.


By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images