£40m Rasmus Hojlund’s big summer transfer decision amid Man Utd and Juventus interest

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The Red Devils are among the clubs being linked with the Danish striker this summer.

You could forgive Manchester United fans for experiencing a whole range of negative emotions as Erling Haaland’s goal-laden exploits led their cross-city rivals to a historic treble last season.

Top of the list would have been frustration, especially once former Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed he urged his old club to make a move for the Norway international during his time at Molde. Five years before Haaland got his hands on the Champions League and enjoyed a record-breaking first campaign in the Premier League with Manchester City, the man that helped United become the first English club to claim a treble on a memorable night in Barcelona had given the club a chance to land a player that could have transformed their fortunes.

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Erling Haaland celebrates winning the Champions League with Manchester City this season - pic: FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty ImagesErling Haaland celebrates winning the Champions League with Manchester City this season - pic: FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images
Erling Haaland celebrates winning the Champions League with Manchester City this season - pic: FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

In an event held in Manchester, Solskjaer explained: “I called United about six months before I took over and told them that I had this striker, but they didn’t listen. Four million, I asked for. But they never signed him. Four million!”

Five years on, or in football terms, 167 goals in 169 appearances, three transfers, and six major trophies later, Haaland is one of the most feared strikers in world football and is making the most of Pep Guardiola’s guidance as United manager Erik ten Hag considers how to boost his own attacking ranks. Links with England captain Harry Kane and Napoli frontman Victor Osimhen have gone quiet despite the summer beginning with fevered speculation that both players were high on the wishlist of the Old Trafford hierarchy.

Yet as it stands, with the Red Devils players set to return to pre-season training, it is Anthony Martial that shoulders the entirety of the pressure and expectation in leading the frontline for Ten Hag. Despite a wave of speculation, a new striker is yet to arrive, meaning the desire to bring in a prolific frontman remains.

In a curious twist of fate, however, Ten Hag’s focus could fall upon a move for a young Scandinavian striker forging a fine reputation for himself at domestic and international level - yet this move will cost far more than the bargain £4m swoop United could have made for Haaland half a decade ago.

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 Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur applauds the fans after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur applauds the fans after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur applauds the fans after the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Still only 20 years old, Atalanta forward Rasmus Højlund has enjoyed a fine first season in Serie A and, such are his exploits, it could well prove to be his only year at the Gewiss Stadium. Since joining the Bergamo-based club, Højlund has scored ten goals and provided four assists in 34 appearances in all competitions. Those figures are further improved by a return of six goals in his last six senior appearances for Denmark, including a fine hat-trick against Finland.

Those statistics might not immediately scream ‘second coming of Erling Haaland’, but Højlund has shown plenty to suggest he could well be the sort of striker Ten Hag has been craving as he looks to build on a progressive first season in charge at Old Trafford.

Although it would be hasty to suggest that Højlund is on a similar level to the esteemed status bestowed upon Kane, Haaland, or Osimhen, he has without question developed during his time in Italy and is already showing promising signs that he is ready to make the step to one of European football’s largest clubs.

With power, pace, and a strong work ethic, the youngster possesses plenty of attributes preferred by Ten Hag, and has shown an ability to effectively link up with his fellow attacking players and knit play together at the top end of the pitch. But there is room for improvement in his game, and many Serie A experts have pointed to a need to improve his conversion rate in goalscoring scenarios, which stood at just 16.7% last season.

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Perhaps it is easier to judge Højlund’s ability based on the comments of coaches and team-mates that have witnessed him first-hand and have experienced the day-to-day pressures of life at the top level with the striker in their midst. Speaking of his progression over his first five months with Atalanta following a 2-1 win against Spezia, head coach Gian Piero Gasparini revealed just how highly he rated the youngster and explained how far he thinks he can go in the game.

He said: “He has extraordinary margins, the evolution he’s had in recent months. He had to get into matches right away, he’s nineteen. He’s incredibly generous, he has a desire to achieve results, he spurred the fans on against Spezia.

“Today he played a sensational match, technically he has margins, in the air he can do well there too given his stature. He can be a top future striker. It’s not easy all the same, to snatch this boy, many wanted him, the prices are very high. We need to understand why Sturm Graz took him in Denmark and are still first.”

Then there is former Middlesbrough midfielder and current Atalanta star Martin de Roon, who said: “I didn’t expect him to be this strong. When he joined, his qualities were noticeable, but maybe his first touch and conditioning were a bit lacking. He has incredible quickness and the stamina to go for the entire 90 minutes now.”

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His club captain, Rafael Toloi, added his name to his list of admirers, saying: “Hojlund is a great talent, physically strong and with great speed. He has everything he needs to be great and is working with the right coach and with the right team.”

Whether Erik ten Hag and Manchester United tick both of those boxes, and in turn go some way to making up for the missed opportunity presented to them by Solskjaer all those years ago, remains to be seen.

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