It’s 2017 and Kasper Dolberg is smiling. All of a sudden a Danish striker has popped up, and everyone at Ajax is convinced that they they have finally found a player who can compete with the great strikers of yesteryear.
The Polish striker Arek Milik had just left for Napoli and Ajax needed a replacement. The eighteen-year-old Dolberg, bought in 2015 for 350.000 euros from the Danish Silkeborg, is the only option that Peter Bosz has available. Throughout his youth career, before joining Ajax, Dolberg was a left winger. ‘Cut to the inside and shoot,” Dohlberg explained to Andy van der Meijden during an intervie in his car. ‘That’s all I did. I think that’s the reason Ajax bought me, but they didn’t want me to do that anymore.’
His first season in Ajax-1 is sensational. On his Eredivisie debut against Roda JC, Dolberg immediately makes two goals. The first one is easy. The second is a typical top striker action. Dolberg slides his leg in front of a Roda defender and taps the ball in. The Dane scored for Ajax-1 before this match. Earlier that summer, he lashed out from about twenty meters, he made the 1-1, in the preliminary round of the Champions League, against PAOK Saloniki.
Later it would be said of the ice-cool Danish striker, that he neve smiled but that is not true. When he scores, Dolberg is all smiles in the arms of his fellow players at the start of that first Ajax-season.
The fans are convinced that the striker that Ajax been awaited for so many years has finally surfaced. Father Dolberg compares his son to Marco van Basten. But perhaps the comparison with Dennis Bergkamp is more fitting. Blond too. Shy and often poker faced just like hi. And the Dolberg goals are sometimes Bergkampian.
Dolberg seems liberated. Within one half, he scores his first hat-trick against NEC. A grenade that hits the inside of the crossbar against PEC Zwolle. Well timed ground shots, just when the keeper least expects them, while defenders are clinging on to him. And perhaps more importantly: the tip-ins and penalty kicks all go in too.
Then something changes in Dolberg’s facial expression. He still celebrates, with clenched fists, but the laugh disappears from his face. At the most, his tongue curls up against his upper lip. Nothing wrong with that, you would think, scoring goals is normal for a top striker. In the league alone, he makes 29 in his first season.
But after that it goes downhill. Dolberg hardly has a share in Ajax’s succesfull Champions League campaign in the 2018-19 season. Tadic plays instead of him, as a false striker.
He gets injured. Bosz, who seems to have been able to push him to the limit, leaves Ajax. In the person of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dolberg has to deal with an older, but driven and crafty competitor. Dohlberg told the Dutchdaily NRC Handelsblad in 2016 that missed opportunities are not the end of the world for him: ‘It is more important to me that I have the feeling that I am playing well. That I am feeling comfortable on the field. Goals are only part of that.”
In August 2019 Ajax sold Dolberg to Nice for 20.5 million euros and things are still not going well for the Dane.
Dolberg has barely entered the club when teammate Labine Diaby-Fadiga steals his 70.000 euro watch from the dressing room. Dolberg makes a good start at Nice. On March 8, he secures European football for his club with two goals against Monaco.
But this season was a bit of a disaster. Dolberg sprained his ankle. He injured his hip a month later. His car was stolen. His house got burgalared. He got appendicitis. And twice he became ill with the corona virus. After his two goals against Wales in the eighth final, in his former home the Amsterdam Arena, Dolberg screamed it out. He saved his smile for the interview afterwards, in answer to the question whether he wanted to see his old buddies Frenkie and Matthijs again in the quarterfinals. Sure he can smile.