It was a few weeks ago on a practice diamond at Truist Park, Atlanta, when Alexander Isak picked up a bat and had a swing as baseballs flew in his direction. With his Atlanta Braves cap pushed down on his brow, there were a few swings and misses compared to his team-mates who connected bat on ball.

There is no such thing as a knock-about when it comes to Newcastle’s squad. The coaches set up the baseball session as a competition and Isak found himself in the bottom five, while Sven Botman channelled Babe Ruth at the plate.

But there is no doubt that Isak is Newcastle’s big hitter when it comes to their rise to rub shoulders with Premier League heavyweights. The Sweden striker is their record signing at £63 million, arriving almost exactly a year ago and brushing aside initial injury frustration to show why Eddie Howe invested heavily.

On the opening weekend of the season he was chosen ahead of Callum Wilson and scored two goals leading the line against Aston Villa. It will not get any easier against Manchester City on Saturday evening but taking on the Treble-winners is the type of game Isak was bought from Real Sociedad for.

He has endured comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic since he was a teenager because of the natural talent he showed growing up in Sweden, the son of Eritrean refugee parents. And his progress has seen him once agree terms with Real Madrid, eventually join Borussia Dortmund but find himself as the Galactico on Tyneside after his move last summer.

Injury hampered his progress last season after his explosive start against Liverpool, scoring and having another disallowed. It was a thigh problem that limited his action but his goal-scoring rate was still healthy, with 17 starts and 10 goals. This season he feels he will benefit from having a pre-season with Howe’s squad after last summer came with the distraction of a Premier League transfer being on the horizon.

As he found in Atalanta, the pre-season at Newcastle comes with a competitive edge even when it comes to baseball. “The staff have built up this competitive environment where everything we do is competitive,” he said. “It helps us in the games as well, we are in that type of environment in training, everything we do we make it a bit of a competition which is fun and helpful as well.”

In Howe’s team, the competition is between Isak and Wilson for the No 9 role in the team, with the Newcastle manager admitting he was torn over his decision last week. They have only started four games together and it seems like one or the other when it comes to selection, even if Isak prides himself on playing across the attacking line.

His assist at Goodison Park last season showed he can start wide, as he danced around the whole Everton defence before setting up Jacob Murphy. It was a dribble that his hero, Thierry Henry, would have been proud of.

Isak caught the end of Henry’s career as he grew up in Stockholm County, where he was on the books at AIK from the age of six. It was when he made his debut at 16 that the Zlatan comparisons started, although his route to the Premier League was circuitous. He could have joined Real Madrid but headed to Dortmund instead.

While Westfalenstadion is usually the perfect place for young players to develop, Isak appeared to be caught in the power struggle that included coach Thomas Tuchel. He struggled to settle and it was at Real Sociedad where he emerged as a player of interest to clubs looking to invest heavily in a striker.

Arsenal showed a firm interest but it was Newcastle who got the move done last season, thanks in no small part to Dan Ashworth selling the vision of the club under its new Saudi Arabian owners. It was a signal of intent from Newcastle but also came with pressure to deliver.

“I think he’s coped with the move really well, especially when you consider he had an injury early on which was a hugely frustrating period for him,” said Howe.

“Sometimes the price tag can weigh heavy but I don’t get that feeling with Alex — he’s taken it all in his stride. He’s performing really well, and he has done through pre-season so I’m hopeful he’ll have a great season.”

He has endeared himself to the Newcastle fans, helped by his mazy dribble at Goodison and the way he led the line against Villa last weekend. Pundits analysed an “assist” for Sandro Tonali, where Isak held off Tyrone Mings to allow his team-mate space to score. Tonali took the headlines on his debut but Isak’s goals were just as important.

There was footage last season of Isak using the Geordie phrase “gan hyem”, which translates to going home. It is a phrase with Scandinavian roots, just like Newcastle’s record signing, whose goals as well as turn of phrase has made him a favourite.