On Friday afternoon, Sunderland announced the signing of Danish central defender Frederik Alves Ibsen, better known as Frederik Alves, on a season-long loan from West Ham. The young Dane joins the Black Cats after a year-and-a-half with the reserve team with the hope of earning regular first team football. But who is the 21-year-old? Toke Theilade, editor in Chief at Vilfortpark.dk and a Danish football journalist, give us the low-down.
The Brazilian Dane
In the late 1980s, the Danish national team became known as the Brazilians of the Nordics because of the high technical level of players like Michael Laudrup, Allan Simonsen and Preben Elkjær Larsen.
Frederik Alves Ibsen is not at that level yet, but he is literally a Nordic Brazilian. Born to a Brazilian mother and Danish father, the young defender grew up in Denmark, but has been influenced by both countries football wise to form an interesting mix.
Alves received his football education at Hvidovre Boldklub, who won three Danish championships between 1966 and 1981, and is most famous for being the club where Peter Schmeichel started his career.
At the age of 15, after a vacation in Brazil visiting his mother’s family, he joined Coritiba FC and began learning the Brazilian way of playing football. Coritiba is a club with a proud history and the most famous in the state of Paraná, where they have won a staggering 36 state championships.
“The football in Brazil is physical and quick, and living there taught me a lot,” he said after returning to Denmark in 2018. Alves also explained, that living and playing in Brazil developed him as a person, making him more independent, and as a player because of the large focus on one-on-one situations, which put huge demands on the defenders.
After two years in Brazil, Alves returned to Denmark where he signed a one-year training contract with Silkeborg IF in the summer of 2018. He was supposed to train with the first team but play with the U19 team, but quickly outgrew his age group and earned his debut in September 2018 in a cup game.
While far from one of the largest clubs in Denmark, Silkeborg are famous for their talent development. Two graduates from their academy, Kasper Dolberg and Robert Skov, were in Denmark’s squad for the Euro 2020, and Alves could be next in line. Clearly, Alves received training at a high level, and soon after his debut, he became a regular in the central defence as the club challenged for promotion to the Superliga.
Alves played 18 games in his debut season in Silkeborg’s first team and played a big part in them securing promotion back to the 1st tier. Following his debut season, he was rewarded for his contribution with a five-year contract, something that is not commonly handed out at the smaller Danish clubs where the financial situations are always tight.
As if the promotion to the 1st tier of Danish football wasn’t enough, Alves’ stellar display for Silkeborg also earned him his first-ever call up to the Danish youth national team, as he participated in a U20 friendly against Romania in March 2019.
During his first and only season in the Superliga, Alves managed 22 games, 21 starts, and although he couldn’t stop Silkeborg from going down with a bang, it was obvious to anyone that he had outgrown the club. The only question was where he would continue his career.
During the summer period, there were plenty of rumors surrounding the young defender. Danish media reported of interest from Russian side Rostov as well as Leeds United. In the end, however, Alves chose West Ham United on deadline day.
Roughly a year later, Alves is yet to make his debut for the Hammers, having spent the previous season with the U23 team. He did however play competitive football in May as a part of Denmark’s U21 national team at the European Championship. Alves participated in two fixtures, and played full time in the penalty shootout quarterfinal defeat against Germany.
What are Sunderland getting in Alves?
It is clear to most people that Alves is not like the regular young Danish football player. He has a strong personality and a determination like few.
Travelling to Brazil at a young age made him self-sufficient and independent. Young Danish players have frequently had to give up on their adventures abroad because of weak mentality and a lack of will to fight for their spot in the team, but that’s not likely to happen with Alves. He’s the kind of player who grows with the challenge, which he has proved at all stages of his career so far.
It should also be noted that Alves already speaks fluent English, making the integration into a new team easier for him, as well as Portuguese and of course Danish.
On the football pitch, Sunderland are getting the best of both worlds in terms of Brazilian and Danish defending. Through his Danish education, he’s a tactically smart player with good positioning abilities. He’s physically gifted and should intimidate most opponents with his stature, and strong build. He is strong in duels, and his style should fit well with the physical football played in League One. His height obviously makes him skilled in the air as well, although we are yet to see him utilized as an offensive weapon on set pieces.
That’s not all, though. Alves is also technically gifted. He can use both feet, although best with the right, and he’s quick and smart enough to also cover the right back if needed. At Silkeborg he was often used as the first man in the build-up, and he was skilled at starting quick counter-attacks when the opportunity arose. He is clearly comfortable when having the ball on his feet, and he should fit well into a team with a possession-based focus.
Danish central defenders have historically fared well in English football, and Alves is just the latest in the line to try and dominate. He’s still young and inexperienced, especially at this level, but the talent and determination for him to eventually make an impact at the highest level is certainly there.