Wout Weghorst to Man Utd: Burnley flop's arrival could be a Ten Hag masterstroke
“The club has bought an unimaginable number of players in recent years who have not been good enough," Erik ten Hag told Voetbal International's Christmas magazine. "Most purchases have been average – and, at United, average is not good enough.
“United’s shirt weighs heavily. Only real personalities, who can perform under great pressure, can play here.”
The Manchester United manager has talked a good game since his arrival at Old Trafford last summer, stressing the importance of bringing back the team’s core identity while demanding the highest possible standards across the pitch.
“We needed personalities. That’s why the acquisition of Casemiro was so important. Along with Raphael Varane, we now have a second player who has experience of winning titles,” the Dutch tactician added to VI.
“[Tyrell] Malacia, [Lisandro] Martinez, Casemiro, Antony are all fighters, while Christian Eriksen is a technical winner and a great personality. We want the best of the best. Any players we bring to Manchester United must meet the highest standard.”
Few neutral fans would agree that Wout Weghorst falls into the category, though.
Indeed, most Burnley supporters were happy to see the back of the striker when he joined Besiktas on loan last July, as he managed just two goals in 20 Premier League games following a £12 million ($14.6m) winter transfer from Wolfsburg.
Weghorst failed to prove himself in the English top flight as the Clarets suffered relegation, but he has now been handed a shock second chance at United, one of the world’s biggest clubs, who are chasing a return to the Champions League and multiple trophies in the second half of the season.
From the outside looking in, "average” seems an appropriate word to describe Weghorst’s career so far. However, Ten Hag is not one to throw around empty statements. He sees something special in the Netherlands international.
The United boss made no secret of the fact that he wanted another striker this month, having seen Cristiano Ronaldo's acrimonious departure reduce his options.
Marcus Rashford has stepped up, but Anthony Martial is still struggling for consistency and Alejandro Garnacho remains a young pretender for now.
It has been reported that United will only be able to sanction loan deals in the January window, after a summer outlay of over £220m ($250m), which goes some way to explaining why Weghorst has been snapped up.
However, this is not a panic deal in the mould of the one that saw Odion Igahlo join United on loan from Shanghai Shenhua on January transfer deadline day in 2020. Weghorst can add a new dimension to Ten Hag’s squad and adapt to his system effortlessly.
Weghorst is a relentless presser – you won’t see him trudging about aimlessly when out of possession like Ronaldo did before his exit – and is surprisingly nimble with the ball at his feet for a man standing at an imposing height of 6ft 6in.
United learned just how technically adept he is firsthand, as he produced a slick turn to evade Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay before setting up Jay Rodriguez to score for Burnley in a 1-1 draw between the two sides at Turf Moor last season.
Weghorst won’t be fazed if he starts among Ten Hag’s substitutes either. He produced the best cameo performance of the 2022 World Cup when he came on in the 78th minute of the Netherlands’ quarter-final clash against Argentina, scoring twice to force the game into extra-time.
The Oranje lost to the eventual tournament winners on penalties, but Weghorst scared the life out of Argentina with his aerial prowess and quick thinking in the box, with his second goal coming in the form of a stunning finish from a brilliantly executed free-kick routine.
Goals like that come easy for natural centre-forwards like Weghorst, who boasted a fearsome scoring record at club level before his ill-fated move to Burnley. He managed 45 goals in 86 games for AZ Alkmaar in his homeland before recording 70 in 144 outings for Wolfsburg in Germany.
Indeed, Weghorst scored nine times for Besiktas in the first half of the season, and bowed out with a trademark effort against Kasimpasa.
The move to United may not be sewn up just yet, with Besiktas sporting director Ceyhun Kazanci discussing the obstacles that must be overcome when reacting to Weghorst’s gesture on Saturday.
His arrival, then, should be met with excitement rather than apprehension among United fans.
The club’s former assistant coach, Rene Meulensteen, who worked under Sir Alex Ferguson during the legendary manager’s glorious final years at Old Trafford, aptly summed up why Ten Hag’s move for Weghorst could be a masterstroke.
“Ten Hag knows what he is doing, for sure,” Meulensteen told BBC Sport. “He [Weghorst] offers something else that the other Manchester United forwards don't have.
“If United need to go a bit more direct and play off the knockdown, he is the type of guy that can offer that in the box. He is good at link-up play too, you can give him the ball then play through him.
“He is a good character who is determined, a hard worker and a fighter – those are his biggest traits. He is a nice lad too and there is no nonsense with him. Weghorst will put a shift in for the team.
"So, he possesses all the qualities Ten Hag wants in a player and so will fit in at United.”
Weghorst might not be the kind of sexy, big-name signing United supporters are used to, but he could be exactly what they need right now.