Even in the climate of escalating Premier League wealth, Middlesbrough signing a player of Viktor Fischer’s quality would have seemed impossible three years ago. But three years is a long time in football, and Fischer, once tipped for a meteoric rise, has seen his stock fall at Ajax. Now, as a deals seems close, Middlesbrough will be acquiring a supremely talented but damaged forward searching for redemption.
It was only in 2013 that a 19-year-old Viktor Fischer seemed to eclipse compatriot Christian Eriksen, two years his senior, as Ajax’s most prodigious talent. Scoring 10 league goals in his first season and helping the club to the title, Fischer exhibited a certain vigour that the more polished Eriksen was always accused of lacking. The two Danes proved crucial in Ajax’s 2012/13 Eredivisie victory and Fischer was eager to steal the limelight, scoring vital goals against Feyenoord and PSV.
With tantalizing runs, powerful dribbling and remarkable composure in front of goal, Fischer announced himself to the world. Cutting in from the left as an inverted winger, a position alien to the original Ajax school, the right-footed Aarhus-born teenager attracted interest from Bayern Munich along with Manchester City and Manchester United. It seemed only a matter of time before he would join one of football’s superpowers.
Three years later, Eriksen has been one of the stars of Tottenham’s title-chasing team, set to return to the Champions League next season, while Fischer will be tasked with extending Middlesbrough’s Premier League stay beyond a single season.
To say Fischer has not yet fulfilled his potential would be a huge understatement. After he was poached by FC Midtjylland from AGF aged 14, Ulvene (The Wolves) managed to hold on to him for a mere two years, before bigger clubs came knocking. With the so-called Danish connection – Ajax have had only more Dutch than Danish players – the step up to Amsterdam was a logical one and it took Fischer hardly any time to adapt.
Despite a tough start with injuries, the youngster soon made strides, and was crowned the joint-top goalscorer of the NextGen Series (tied with Barcelona’s Jean Marie Dongou), with Ajax losing the final on penalties. Fischer, who impressed his coaches by quickly picking up the Dutch language, received high praise from club icon Sjaak Swart. “He is a true Ajax footballer, with beautiful moves, a through ball, an unexpected turn, a little Bergkamp-like,” Swart told Algemeen Dagblad.
The 2012/13 season gave no reason to deter the Ajax faithful from their lofty expectations. After starting in the Dutch Super Cup and the Dutch Cup, Fischer grabbed the headlines on his full league debut, scoring a brace away to PEC Zwolle in a 4-2 victory. The first goal, a gentle tap-in past the keeper, was fittingly assisted by Eriksen. Fischer’s talent was so apparent that Denmark manager Morten Olsen decided not to waste any time, awarding the forward his debut for the national team only three days after his match-winning performance against Zwolle.
Then 18 years old, Fischer scored 10 goals in 21 starts in the league and was rewarded with a contract until 2017. With Ajax a renowned stepping stone for many promising youngsters, everything pointed towards another fairytale journey. But after a year of the sweet, two years of the sour followed.
In 2013/14, Fischer struggled to make an impact, suffering from ‘second-season syndrome’ and struggling to fit the typical profile of the out-and-out winger Ajax favour. With a new status came new responsibilities, and Fischer struggled to live up to them. His season was cut short due to a hamstring tear in February 2014. The initial six-week prognosis turned into 59 weeks, with the young Dane eventually returning to the first team 419 days later in April 2015. By then, Ajax had tried and tested other players on the wing so Fischer ended the season as a striker, scoring three goals in four matches.
His long lay-off left him way down the pecking order and failing to fit the mould for Ajax’s key attacking positions meant he was made to wait for his chances. Whereas Fischer’s injury in 2014 was originally viewed as a minor setback in a tough second season, by the start of the 2015/16 campaign the mood surrounding him had changed to hope rather than expectation.
It took time for the forward to battle his way back into the team, but by the time the winter break arrived he looked to have made a breakthrough. Fischer started eight of a possible 10 league games between October and December, all on the wing, and, although he only showed flashes of his huge potential, his performances against Roda JC and Heerenveen were very encouraging.
The first game of 2016, versus ADO Den Haag, turned out to be Fischer’s last start of the season. All of a sudden he was restricted to weekly cameos, coming off the bench and having little to no impact. In pursuit of his fifth league title, Frank de Boer placed his trust elsewhere rather than backing the youngster who was so instrumental in the manager claiming his third Eredivisie in 2013.
Somewhat fittingly, Ajax’s former teenage prodigy came on for the 18-year-old Vaclav Cerny against De Graafschap on the final day of the season in what turned out to be De Boer’s final substitution of his reign. With Ajax needing to win to beat PSV to the championship, Fischer had only 18 minutes to break the deadlock. The match finished 1-1 and the title went to Eindhoven; a marriage that started so perfectly between Ajax, De Boer and Fischer seemed over.
In truth, although he is a quick and intuitive talent, Fischer never seemed a natural fit for Ajax. He lacked the trickery to be a winger, the pure creativity to play as a number 10, and the physique to start as a striker under De Boer, despite showing promise in all of those aspects of the game.
Even the manager’s departure, which has been followed by the appointment of the more expansive Peter Bosz, has not been able to reignite the Dane’s broken relationship with the club. But instead of Manchester, Madrid or Munich, all mooted destinations only a few years ago, it is Middlesbrough where Fischer will try and restart his once so promising career.
In Fischer, Middlesbrough will get a player still full of raw potential, and it will be essential for Aitor Karanka to give him time to settle and adjust to the rigours of the Premier League. Fischer should prove a talented addition as a roaming forward, picking pockets of space and making intelligent runs. Despite struggling to progress over the last few seasons, his composure in front of goal hasn’t dissipated – he can still account for a respectable 148 minutes-per-goal ratio over the past Eredivisie campaign.
Fischer still has time to fulfil his early promise and, at a reported fee of less than £4m, he could yet be a Teesside steal.