Manchester United haven’t been in the best form of late, and things haven’t looked too bright. But as the days get darker, fans must be reassured: Winther is cøming.
United‘s new number 11, signed for a fee potentially rising to £72 million in the summer, once again captivated the hearts and minds of the Theatre of Dreams last Tuesday night against Galatasaray with a stunning performance, scoring his first goals at home for United.
His only other goal for United came at the Allianz Arena, again in the spotlight of the Champions League – club football’s grandest of stages. If anything is clear about Old Trafford’s new Nordic hero, he’s a showman who shines in direct proportion to the size of the stage.
Rasmus Højlund isn’t quite the finished article yet; he is far from it. But there’s something about his rawness that makes United fans feel something when watching him. He has this hunger, this drive, this desire, that outweighs any associated negative qualities.
Over the last few years, the striker position hasn’t been Old Trafford’s centrepiece the way it was back in the day. Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku had very good moments for United, but both never truly worked out. Outside of them, it’s been superstars whose shine was fading, United fans loving them yet knowing in due course they would have to leave them.
In Højlund, it feels like United have found someone who strikes the balance.
Standing at 6’3, the 20-year-old is devastatingly powerful but also capable of showcasing the kind of grace you want from your striker every now and then. He fights for everything that comes close to him, uses his body as a battering ram to drive away defenders, and his attacking movement is excellent.
His hold-up play was an inconsistency in his game I highlighted upon his arrival, due to how he uses his body in some duels, but game by game it improves. Against Brentford on the weekend it felt like there was a forcefield around him every time the ball came within his proximity. Thomas Frank’s back three are no pushovers, but Højlund was just that much stronger.
It’s not perfect yet. Højlund and his teammates still must develop their empathy for one another on the field. At times when the ball comes into the striker’s feet, it feels that only Mason Mount is moving to create a dynamic superiority and capitalise on this quality of Højlund’s.
Sometimes the ball can be crossed earlier for him, other times when it is crossed a secondary runner needs to support – again it feels that only Mount is providing this for him. Erik ten Hag’s use of minimum width is principally to allow his wide players to have less distance to attack the goal when the opportunity arises.
Højlund himself can do things better. His choice of run sometimes doesn’t fit well with the ball carrier’s situation, making it more difficult for them to find him. He also can hold onto the ball too long in transitional situations, and his pass weighting when he does release has been inconsistent. Like I said, he is not the finished product yet.
But unlike other big, young signings in recent times, there feels a different level of confidence around Højlund. Something about him feels special and sets him apart from the others. Driven by the aforementioned mental qualities and a strong belief in himself, Højlund brings an aura (cue memes) to the field every game, and United fans feed off this. His celebrations for his goals last Tuesday were the prime example, he simply raised his arms in front of each end, drinking in the atmosphere. An atmosphere he knows he’s currently at the heart of.
More than anything, what United fans love most about Rasmus Højlund isn’t just his quality, but how he applies it. He grew up a fan of Manchester United and every single game he plays like it. In his interviews, he speaks like it. In his every action, you feel that it’s driven by love for the club above anything else.
The signing was questioned at the time, with long-time target Harry Kane on the market and Højlund being something of a footballing enigma, an unknown entity. His nine Serie A goals became a bit of a joke, given the fee being paid. But what people forget is that fees aren’t always paid for the here and now, they’re often investments in the future.
Right now, Rasmus Højlund feels like Manchester United’s future.
He might not be the finished product yet, but it’s this feeling he creates, this aura he exonerates, that makes United fans confident he is the chosen one. If Manchester United help him continue to develop at his current rate, then almost nothing can stand in his way.
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