Manchester United have patiently waited and now the moment is approaching. Rasmus Hojlund is about to make his full debut for the club against Brighton on Saturday, more than five weeks after completing his £72 million ($90m) move from Atalanta.
Fans liked what they saw of their new striker when he came off the bench against Arsenal and now they get to see their new man in action from kick off, in front of an expectant Old Trafford that badly needs lifting after a miserable start to the new campaign in which their team has already lost two games.
United have not had a proper striker since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club in November 2022 and, in truth, the Portuguese no longer wanted to be with them and was way past the peak of his powers. Hojlund, however, is a 20-year-old player on the cusp of stardom who is raring to go and desperate to impress his new team.
GOAL explains why Hojlund is the right man to kickstart United's season and why his full debut comes at just the right time...
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A strong first impression
Hojlund only had 23 minutes plus added time to make an impression on United fans and Premier League viewers when he came on against Arsenal but he instantly made his new side look more dangerous and more inventive.
The Dane immediately threw himself into Arsenal defender Gabriel, giving the Brazilian a real battle after he had spent most of the game coasting against the feeble and lightweight Anthony Martial. He used his strength to his advantage and put the Gunners under pressure with darting runs in behind as well as clever hold-up play.
After United had spent much of the game just trying to keep possession to keep Arsenal at bay, they suddenly became more direct, hitting their new signing with long balls both in the air and along the deck. Hojlund thrived with both types of deliveries.
When a bouncing ball came towards him he muscled Gabriel out of the way and got there first, controlling it and holding play up to allow his team-mates to get forward. He soon found Bruno Fernandes, whose ball then started a promising attack.
In another instance Hojlund hared towards a ground pass, again beating Gabriel to it before running at the Brazilian, nearly winning a penalty. Erik ten Hag certainly thought the challenge had warranted a spot-kick and although the decision did not go United's way, opposition defenders have been warned that Hojlund is ready to take them on.
Invention and aggression
Hojlund also shown invention, attempting a backheel towards goal when the ball fell behind him and his path was being blocked by Gabriel. Another backheel in the middle of the pitch allowed Casemiro to play in Alejandro Garnacho for what looked to be the winning goal, only for the strike to be deemed fractionally offside. United may have lost the game, but there was plenty of hope for the future.
"Manchester United haven’t had a striker that they can hit. That’s the problem. At least they’ve got someone who looks like he’ll mess people around and get his body in there," said Gary Neville on Sky Sports.
"He’s aggressive, and he’s a runner. Manchester United haven’t got anyone else with experience to back him up. We’ve been watching Martial for 9-10 years at Manchester United and he’s not what Erik ten Hag wants. This lad, a lot of pressure on him, big price tag, but it was an encouraging start."
MUTV pundit and former United defender Phil Bardsley added: "The big man came on. He looked good, he looked aggressive up there, he brought a freshness to the team. He’s got a presence up there, he doesn’t mind physical contact, we’ve not got that at the minute."
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'A rock star that excites the crowd'
Hojlund's immediate predecessor Wout Weghorst seemed to be wracked with self-doubt and Martial also appears unsure of himself, particularly his ability (or lack thereof) to stay fit. United strikers are put under the microscope like at few other clubs so confidence is a pre-requisite to play the role at Old Trafford. Luckily, Hojlund seems to have it in spades.
Take his first interview after joining Sturm Graz. He was still 18 and his previous venture with FC Copenhagen had been a huge disappointment, with him failing to score a single goal in the Danish top-flight. So who did he decide to compare himself to? Erling Haaland.
"In one of his first interviews here, he said his playing style has some similarities to Erling Haaland. Both in our club and in the media, people laughed or didn’t take it seriously, because he was only 18 and hadn’t really shown anything," Sturm Graz coach Christian Ilzer told The Daily Mail.
"But for me it showed how confident he was. After his first game, where he scored twice, all the journalists knew what he was talking about and saw that there are similarities, with their size, power and finishing ability.
"The pitch is a concert stage and he is a rock star that excites the crowd. He is naturally comfortable in the spotlight. That’s why he is made for the biggest stages."
Hojlund certainly did not seem to lack confidence in his first interview as a United player. He did not shy away from the fact that few people saw the move coming after only scoring nine Serie A goals for Atalanta but underlined how ready he was to take the step up.
“It is no secret that I have been a fan of this great club since I was a small boy, and I dreamed of walking out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player,” Hojlund said. "I am incredibly excited by this opportunity to turn that dream into a reality, and I am determined to repay the faith that the club has shown in me. It is still early in my career, but I know that I am ready to make this step up and play with this group of world-class players."
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As dedicated as Cristiano
Hojlund has revealed that his footballing role model was Cristiano Ronaldo and his reasons will be music to United fans' ears. The Dane was introduced to the prolific Portuguese by his United-supporting father Anders and he did not just want his son to marvel at Ronaldo's hunger and goal prowess. He also wanted him to imitate his dedication.
"My father introduced me when I was young. He supported them and he introduced me to Cristiano, he wanted me to idolise him because he has a good mentality. I think that's the reason he is where he is today, why he achieved so much and why, for me, he is the best player ever," Hojlund told Sky Sports.
"He of course had the talent but it is about how hard he worked. I've seen interviews with ex-Manchester United players who all saw he wasn't a complete footballer when he came so he was very skilful but it is about how he developed."
Another sign of Hojlund's dedication is how much of a late bloomer he was. Indeed, Christian Mouroux, a key figure in the early stages of his career, has admitted that Hojlund's younger twin brothers, Emil and Oscar, who are still at Copenhagen, were more talented than the new United signing.
"Rasmus wasn’t a standout," Mouroux told The Daily Mail. "There were other players his age just as good. Signing for a team who’ve bought him to perform now, it’s surprising. Knowing him, it’s a type of pressure he will thrive under."
Mouroux, sporting director of amateur club Horsholm Usserod Idraetsklub (HUI), where Hojlund played until he was 12, said father Anders and his wife were the driving force behind their three sons' careers and he brought them up to never stop practising and honing their skills. Anders, in fact, was so committed that he built a pitch in the basement of their house so they could train when the weather was too bad to play outside.
"Sometimes he would train one son for one hour then come back with another and then another. There was always a Hojlund on our pitches," he recalled. "Rasmus still comes here to train when home. Brings his own cones and balls. Nobody has ever seen dedication like his, but it’s in their blood."
Genetics and physical gifts reminiscent of Haaland
Although Ronaldo was his idol, Hojlund has been widely compared to Haaland, and not just by himself. It is inevitable. They have similar sounding names, come from northern Europe and have similar physical attributes. Haaland is 6'4" in height, while Hojlund is 6'3". Both players have searing pace and are remarkably strong.
The two players also have similar genetics. Haaland's father Alfie was a Premier League footballer, turning out for Manchester City just like his son, while his mother Gry Marita Braut was a respected heptathlete in her time, including being champion of Norway.
Anders Hojlund was a professional footballer, plying his trade in Denmark's lower leagues, while mother Kirsten Winther was a track and field athlete, specialising in sprinting.
Hojlund was renowned for his strength and size from a young age and would play with the older boys at HUI, in the words of former coach Mouroux "because he was physically so big".
Hojlund's strike rate of nine goals for Atalanta last season might pale in comparison to Haaland's logic-defying goal count for City and previous clubs RB Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund but United's new signing has been prolific at international level. He scored six times in his first four matches for Denmark, including a hat-trick on his debut against Finland.
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A big presence in every sense
Hojlund's natural gifts and his ability to hold up play should see him dovetail with his new team-mates. He already appeared to be on a similar wavelength to Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes and Garnacho in his debut against Arsenal and there is hope he will also bring out the best in Rashford.
The England forward finally realised his full potential in a stunning campaign last season, scoring 30 goals in all competitions for the first time in his career. Rashford has not made the best start to the new campaign, however, and that is partly because he was forced to play in his less-favoured position of centre-forward against Wolves and Spurs, while Hojlund and Martial were injured
He looked far more effective playing off the left against Nottingham Forest and Arsenal but still had a far from ideal partner in Martial. Hojlund, however, should suit Rashford's game more, giving him a focal point as well as someone to distract and wear out defenders.
“He is really a front man, very direct to the goal,” Ten Hag said of Hojlund just after his signing was announced. “A very good presser, a physical presence and I think in the balance of this squad we needed that. Alongside Rashford he is another player who is direct and can score goals and that is all in his mind – he wants to score goals."
United's start to the season may have been beset with problems on and off the pitch and left them playing catch-up with Man City and Arsenal. But Hojlund has the capacity to lift the spirits of Erik ten Hag's side as well as their performance levels. He also appears to have a huge personality, demonstrated by his galvanising message to Denmark fans after their win against Finland, where he grabbed a megaphone and told supporters they are "going to win the f****** Euros".
His return to fitness also comes at the perfect time, with tough opponents coming thick and fast - first Roberto De Zerbi's Brighton and then Bayern Munich in their Champions League Group A opener. Watch this space.