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Viktor Gyokeres: The Premier League’s big regret

England’s elite clubs are extensively scouting the progress of Viktor Gyokeres this season, following the forward’s sensational start to his Sporting Lisbon career.

Gyokeres has scored 22 goals and created another 10 in 25 appearances in all competitions, the sort of form which has made even a €100m (£85.7m) release clause appear tempting to sides in short supply of firepower.

Gyokeres, however, is not a talent who has been unearthed suddenly in foreign lands. This is a centre-forward who spent four seasons on the books of a Premier League club without making a league appearance, and who has recently as last season was playing his football in the Championship, on the doorstep of England’s top clubs.

So just how has the Premier League missed his talent?

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It’s worth noting that Gyokeres has not always been the prolific presence he has become. A return of 25 goals in 67 appearances for IF Brommapojkarna in Sweden’s lower tiers was enough to catch the attention of Brighton, however, a side renowned for unearthing gems from far-flung corners of the world in recent years.

The Seagulls’ savvy recruitment team saw talent, but Gyokeres was unable to establish himself at the Amex. His career with the club consisted of eight domestic cup appearances and a solitary goal, with middling second-tier loan spells at St. Pauli, Swansea and Coventry punctuating his time in the Premier League.

The latter took a chance on the Swede despite a modest return of three goals from 19 league games, agreeing a deal worth just over £1m to sign Gyokeres on a permanent basis. His debut season saw that faith repaid as the forward scored 17 goals in 45 league appearances for the Sky Blues in 2021/22.

Gyokeres became the focal point for Coventry’s upwardly mobile team under Mark Robins and last season elevated his game once again. He struck 22 times in all competitions as Coventry reached the play-off final, earning inclusion in the Championship Team of the Season.

Gyokeres proved to be a cut above Championship level, as a selfless centre-forward capable of creating chances on his own.

The Swede’s combination of physical presence and dribbling saw him stretch defences, leading the Championship for progressive carries (198), carries into the penalty area (143), progressive passes received (491) and shot-creating actions (191). He also ranked second for goals (21), fourth for successful take-ons (96) and fifth for assists (10).

Coventry’s penalty shootout defeat to Luton Town at Wembley ultimately spelt the end of the club’s hopes of keeping Gyokeres. A number of Premier League clubs considered his signing, though it was Sporting who stumped up the €20m (£17.1m) required.

For context, that’s less than what Sheffield United paid for Cameron Archer (£18.5m) or Everton spent to sign Beto (£25.75m) in the same transfer window.

Of course, the gap from the second tier to the Premier League is increasingly sizeable, but England’s loss has been Sporting’s gain. Under a proactive head coach in Ruben Amorin and with the benefit of European competition, Gyokeres has thrived.

Despite the elevation in competition, his underlying statistics remain elite in comparison to his peers. Since moving to the Primeira Liga, Gyokeres is averaging a marginally higher number of shot-creating actions (4.31 to 4.27), successful take-ons (2.30 to 2.15), attacking penalty area touches (9.27 to 7.16), and progressive passes received (11.33 to 11.01) per 90 minutes than in the Championship last season.

Furthermore, while his progressive carries (4.43 to 3.84) have dropped slightly per game, his numbers are enough to rank him in the 98th percentile of forwards in Portugal’s top flight. He also ranks in the 98th percentile for take-ons, successful take-ons, and both progressive and total carrying distance.

Gyokeres’ game is all-action and high-octane, a forward who relies less on the service of others in comparison to his contemporaries. His ball-carrying can take his team up the pitch in an instant and could transfer well to almost any team in the Premier League’s top half.

Those outside the elite appear to have missed the boat on the 25-year-old, however, whose release clause at the Estádio José Alvalade is set at nine figures.

His evolution has been remarkable, and his attributes ensure it can continue. The regret among Premier League recruiters, many of whom are still scouring the market for centre-forwards this January, is palpable.

Read – Five talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

See more – Each ‘Big Six’ side’s unsung hero this season

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