Rasmus Hojlund’s price-tag and the absence of alternatives means Man Utd’s new centre-forward will face expectation that may be unreasonable for a comparative rookie…
By agreeing a fee with Atalanta for Rasmus Hojlund, Manchester United appear to have the secured the striker they so desperately need. Now what?
It’s the sixty-four-million-pound (plus eight-million) question. United, judging by their willingness to go above their supposed ceiling for the 20-year-old, obviously feel they have a good steer over the Denmark hit-man’s destiny. But their investment in Hojlund remains a gamble when Erik ten Hag really needed a sure-thing this summer.
Something similar to Erling Haaland, when the Norwegian goal-bot signed for Manchester City last summer. Many comparisons have been drawn between the two strikers, especially this weekend, and there are some parallels. Both are Scandinavian and blond. They are left-footed and their names even sound vaguely similar. And they are built like brick sh*thouses but shift like sh*t off the slippiest of sticks.
The Red Devils can only hope Hojlund replicates Haaland’s impact on the other side of the city. And ‘hope’ seems to be the overriding feeling for Hojlund from most United fans. Beyond the Stretford End, hope will be dwarfed by expectation.
Neither is unfair. In the context of United’s outlay, their obvious shortcomings and the absence of alternatives, it would be reasonable to expect at least a 20-goal season from a centre-forward in or around the top 10 most expensive strikers ever.
However, the more reasonable comparison to make with Hojlund would be with another big-money striker signed last summer: Darwin Nunez.
Even Liverpool’s Captain Chaos arrived in the Premier League with a stronger pedigree than Hojlund. Nunez scored 34 goals the previous season for Benfica from 32 starts as part of 39 appearances in all. Hojlund scored 10 goals, nine in Serie A, from 20 starts in 34 appearances.
It is a very coarse comparison but until we see Hojlund – let’s be honest here, most of us have not beyond clips and compilations – it’s the best we’ve got. Almost certainly closer than the parallels being drawn with Haaland.
Apart from his advanced seniority and pedigree upon moving to the Premier League, Nunez still struggled at times last season. He showed glimpses of genius, similarly ratio’d by moments of maddening frustration. He was always fun to watch, just not always for the right reasons as far as Jurgen Klopp was concerned.
Nunez was raw. But that was okay as far as Liverpool were concerned. With Mo Salah still carrying most of the goalscoring burden, Klopp could just about afford for the Uruguayan to find his feet and steady himself in the Premier League, easing himself in with nine goals.
United and Ten Hag don’t have that luxury. The manager, flitting between Anthony Martial and Wout Weghorst, spent his first season at Old Trafford playing without a fit-for-purpose centre-forward. Marcus Rashford was United’s top scorer, too often having to come off the left flank where he thrives most to fill the gaping void through the middle.
Ideally, to take the next steps, United would have signed Hojlund and a more proven, experienced striker, like Harry Kane. But they are unwilling and, because of FFP, probably unable to afford both, even if they had the balls to perch themselves within a negotiating table’s width of Daniel Levy.
So, however much patience Hojlund might deserve, he’s unlikely to receive it this season, certainly from outside of his new club. You never know – here, you really don’t – the 20-year-old might thrive amid the necessity to play so much, and such prominence could accelerate his progress. If it doesn’t, and in the short-term Hojlund appears as raw as he is, that’s on United, not their rookie centre-forward.