In January 2018, Midtjylland signed a striker they had been monitoring for six months. Artem Dovbyk had spent much of his time playing in Ukraine’s third tier, but at 20, he stood out. Instead of succumbing to the struggles around him, he excelled, showcasing physical prowess against seasoned opponents and averaging nearly a goal per game. Midtjylland needed a successor for Alexander Sørloth, who was set to join Crystal Palace in a lucrative deal. That transfer was completed, and on the same day, Dovbyk’s move from Dnipro was confirmed. The towering No. 9s briefly crossed paths in Jutland.

Their destinies intersected last season. Dovbyk’s hat-trick for Girona against Granada in May saw him surpass Sørloth, now at Villarreal, in the race to be La Liga’s top scorer. Claiming the coveted Pichichi trophy, Dovbyk emerged as one of the world’s most coveted centre-forwards. The 26-year-old will lead Ukraine’s attack as they start their Euro 2024 campaign against Romania on Monday, a stark contrast to his early career struggles where nothing came easy despite his raw talent.

This also underscores Midtjylland’s knack for unconventional thinking. However, Dovbyk’s time in Denmark was marred by disappointment, with only three goals over three seasons, including a loan at Sønderjyske, and a serious cruciate injury hindering his progress. “I wasn’t ready at all,” he reflected. “I didn’t know the language, but I was enthusiastic. Initially, adaptation was fine, but the injury set me back, taking two years to recover.”

Dovbyk’s story is a familiar one of a young talent struggling with a pivotal move abroad. He had to rebuild at Dnipro-1, the successor to his former club, a challenge he was somewhat used to. At his hometown club, Slavutych Cherkasy, a move to Metalist Kharkiv fell through due to injury after his senior debut at 17 and scoring quickly in lower divisions. A proposed move to Dynamo Kyiv also collapsed.

Dovbyk eventually joined Dnipro, which had recently been Europa League runners-up. Early opportunities were limited, and he experienced a confusing loan at Zaria Balti in Moldova, where internal club issues kept him sidelined for much of his stint. After returning to Dnipro, he played another loan spell at Volyn Lutsk before getting a run in a financially struggling, heavily indebted Dnipro side relegated two divisions in 2016-17, where he began to make his mark.

Upon rejoining Dnipro-1 in 2020, Dovbyk sought a fresh start. “I felt something was wrong, a stagnation,” he said. “I wanted to reboot and knew Ukraine was the best place for it.” At 23, it was risky to return, but it paid off.

Dovbyk’s potential had been noticed by Ukraine’s national team, with Andriy Shevchenko perhaps seeing a bit of himself in the powerful, precise striker. In March 2021, he debuted for the national team and made headlines by scoring a last-minute winner against Sweden in the Euro 2020 last-16 match.

That goal introduced Dovbyk to Europe. His impressive tally of 43 goals in 57 games for Dnipro-1 over the next season and a half was even more remarkable, given the challenges of playing in wartime conditions. Despite Dnipro-1 demanding over £10m for him, domestic dominance came with cautious scrutiny due to the league’s reduced quality post-invasion, though his international performances were solid.

Girona eventually snapped him up, paying Dnipro-1 £7m for 70% of his rights in a complex deal that also benefitted Midtjylland, who retained a 30% stake. This foresight might soon yield them substantial returns, with Atlético Madrid eyeing him for a record fee.

Dovbyk thrived in Catalonia, aided by his international teammate Viktor Tsyhankov. He quickly proved his worth, showcasing his ability to outmaneuver defenders, operate in the channels, and support his team, drawing comparisons to Erling Haaland. His rise to the continent’s elite has been driven by his relentless exploitation of his talents.

Having surpassed Sørloth once, Dovbyk may again defy expectations and top the charts in Germany. After a rocky start, his ascent seems unstoppable.