When Journey decided to part ways with longtime lead singer Steve Perry in 1997-98, they hired a guy who not only sounded like him but whose name was kind of similar: Steve Augeri. I like to think that they did it so that when they did interviews, they could talk about him and if listeners weren’t paying close attention, they would think the band was talking about Steve Perry and they would be none the wiser until after the show started.
Similarly, Rasmus Højlund has long been compared to Erling Haaland. Let’s hope the likenesses go beyond the fact they’re both blonde Scandinavian strikers whose last names sound similar — because Manchester United desperately need a goal scorer.
In early June, it was widely reported that Erik ten Hag had held multiple video calls with the 20 year-old Højlund, and that the Atalanta striker and boyhood United fan was keen on a move to Old Trafford. (For the record, Højlund has denied that there were video calls — but that could be because he’s worried about losing his loyalty bonus, or maybe United told him to do it for fear of ten Hag getting hit with tapping up allegations.) Based on reports, Atalanta is willing to cash in on their prized asset, with a rumored price tag of at least £52 million or so being thrown about.
Højlund has long been a hot prospect in world football, and many have touted him as the next Haaland. While the 6’1’’ Højlund is three inches shorter than Haaland, but he possesses similar blazing speed and finishing quality. Højlund isn’t as good aerially, rarely scoring with his head, but he is very much a forward that can link play and score from anywhere.
The biggest area of departure is Højlund’s scoring record. Unlike Haaland, Højlund has yet to establish himself as a regular starter and consistent goal scorer. Last season, his first in Serie A, Højlund scored 10 goals in 34 appearances. Conversely, at the same age, Haaland bagged 28 goals in 20 for Salzburg and then 16 goals in 18 for Borussia Dortmund.
Obviously, there’s a big reason for that disparity beyond development or ability. Serie A is a much more competitive league than the Austrian Bundesliga and, arguably, the German Bundesliga, as well. It’s also more defensive, so players rarely put up Haaland-like stats.
And what of his stats — beyond the goals-to-appearances ratio? According to The Athletic, Højlund’s average shot quality was the highest of any forward in Serie A last season and his non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes was sixth-highest of all players in the league.
“Put simply, he is getting chances worthy of a goal every other game and is converting those chances at the same rate,” The Athletic said.
What about when his team is out of possession? The Athletic notes that, while he hasn’t established himself as a pressing monster, he seems to have attributes that could make one. His blinding speed and aggressive style also have the potential to unnerve opposing players and forcing them into mistakes. And, he can always learn how to lead a press. As Ralf Rangnick once pointed out about Liverpool’s forwards, none of them were considered great ball-winners when they arrived in Europe. But through practice, repetition and consistent training, they became good at it. There’s no reason why Højlund couldn’t develop that way, as well.
Indeed, that much is clear — United would definitely be paying more for potential than proven success. Perhaps that’s why ten Hag’s reported plan had been to buy an established forward along with a prospect like Højlund or the other “next Haaland,” Benjamin Šeško of Red Bull Salzburg (about to join sister club RB Leipzig). That way, the young guy can learn and have time to adjust and mature without the pressure of having to contribute right away.
It’s a smart plan. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to buying an experienced forward.
Harry Kane is looking unlikely — and that’s even before you consider that United probably still have PTSD from their previous negotiations with Spurs for players like Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and others. Meanwhile, Napoli seems to be holding out for a king’s ransom of at least £150 million for Victor Osimhen — a fee that would make the Nigerian goal machine the third-most expensive transfer of all time behind Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
After that, United are looking at younger, less-established players like Jonathan David of Lille, Randal Kolo Muani of Eintracht Frankfurt, or Gonçalo Ramos of Benfica.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. United have chased forwards with big reputations in the past, like Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Cristiano Ronaldo, and they haven’t worked out.
But there’s obviously a huge unknown element when dealing with players who are so young and inexperienced. Throw in having to adjust to the Premier League and a lot of these players are no better than a coin flip.
Perhaps the only sure thing is that, regardless of which forward United tries to sign, their price tag will be high. With United already interested in Mason Mount, as well as a center half (Napoli’s Kim Min-Jae and Monaco’s Axel Disasi have been linked) and goalkeeper, it’s possible there might not be enough money in the transfer budget for two forwards.
As such, if Højlund comes, he might need to step up sooner rather than later. Who knows? Maybe he’ll embrace the challenge with open arms and be the reason why the lights go down on City. And hey, if he doesn’t work out, maybe there’s a Filipino YouTube star we can sign. Don’t stop believing.