Alexander Sorloth looked lost. The strapping Norwegian striker had arrived at Crystal Palace from FC Midtjylland for £9million on the final day of the January transfer window in 2018. Within a year he had been sent on loan to Gent having scored just once in 20 appearances.
Something didn’t seem right from the start. After taking his place on the bench for a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United, Sorloth was brought into the team for a trip to Goodison Park. It was the first of four consecutive starts in the Premier League, all ending in defeat. Except for a disallowed goal against Chelsea, his impact was almost non-existent.
For someone of his physical stature, Sorloth was too easily bullied by experienced defenders. Coming from the Danish Superligaen, he wasn’t ready for the steep rise in quality and intensity. The game simply passed him by, and he was soon dropped. He didn’t make any more appearances that season.
Thereafter Sorloth was restricted to fleeting cameos from the bench, at least in the league. He started, and scored, against Swansea in the second round of the League Cup, wriggling away from two defenders and forcing his shot through Kristoffer Nordfeldt, but it counted for little. Although Palace progressed, he didn’t. Opportunities remained hard to come by and his confidence ebbed.
Pundits, supporters and coaching staff couldn’t quite work him out. Despite being 6ft 5in tall, he didn’t impose himself as expected or offer much of an aerial threat. In truth, he was something of a conundrum. A touch player trapped in the body of an old-fashioned target man.
Moving Sorloth on temporarily seemed the ideal solution. He needed more game time, greater responsibility, and the chance to regain his self-belief, which is so important for a striker. He fared better at Gent, scoring the winner against Anderlecht on his debut, but was often played on the right of a front three and still didn’t do enough to suggest that he was ready for a starting role at Palace.
Under Roy Hodgson, they have been a diligent and effective team, prioritising clean sheets at the expense of attacking freedom. Neither Jordan Ayew nor Christian Benteke, at least in his current guise, are regular scorers, but Palace continue to stay well clear of the bottom three. Only Norwich City and Newcastle United have scored fewer than their 26 goals this season, less than one a game.
Meanwhile, Sorloth is just one short of that total all on his own. Sent on a two-year loan to Trabzonspor, he’s currently the leading scorer in a division that boasts Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Radamel Falcao amongst others. He has 19 goals in 24 games, plus another five in other competitions, and had routinely outshone Daniel Sturridge before his former teammate’s contract was cancelled earlier this month.
Alexander Sorloth Trabzonspor league record
The Norwegian has had a direct hand in at least 9 more goals than any other Super Lig player this season
Sturridge was expected to lead the way for Trabzonspor but often found himself on the bench behind Sorloth, who has embraced the challenge of being the first-choice striker. Once tentative, he has become bullish and forceful. There is a renewed focus and determination to his play. His footwork is sharper and he’s more composed in front of goal. Being afforded more time and space to play in a less frenetic division has certainly helped.
Too often miscategorised because of his sheer height, Sorloth is actually a very complete player. There are few aspects of the lone striker role that he can’t fulfil, and much bigger clubs are now beginning to take notice. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have all been linked with him recently.
Whatever happens, he won’t be returning to Selhurst Park this summer. As part of their loan agreement, Trabzonspor have the option to buy Sorloth for £5million, which they will surely exercise. Thereafter a bidding war is liable to begin, with Palace already having conspired to make a loss on one of the most desirable strikers in Europe. Few could have foreseen such a transformation, but it doesn’t make the prospect of him leaving so cheaply any less galling.
A run in the Norway side over the coming months, most likely alongside fellow goal machine Erling Braut Haaland, will only increase interest in Sorloth, particularly if they make it to the Euros. It will be a prime opportunity for the striker, who is still only 24, to showcase his ability on a bigger stage. For Palace, he will be the one that got away.