Rasmus Hojlund's coaches expected his brothers to be the stars
Rasmus Hojlund wasn’t even the best player in his own family with his two brothers ‘more obvious talents’… but coaches now believe Man United’s surprise £72m signing will thrive
- Rasmus Hojlund’s brothers were described as more ‘obvious talents’ by coaches
- Manchester United completed a £72m for the Danish striker in the summer
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!
When delving into the background of blockbuster signings, youth coaches can be easily sought out, desperate for the chance to retell the moment they spotted a now household superstar, at the age of seven, running past 10 players before finding the top corner.
It is often a tale they have been recounting for years, to anyone who will listen. For Christian Mouroux, one of the key figures in the early career of Rasmus Hojlund, his £72million transfer to Manchester United summons up an inescapable sense of shock.
‘His two younger brothers — twins Emil and Oscar, both now at FC Copenhagen — were more obvious talents. Rasmus wasn’t a standout,’ Mouroux says. ‘There were other players his age just as good.
‘His talents you see today came much later. I won’t lie, I’m very surprised by how much Rasmus went for.’
Rasmus Hojlund joined Manchester United for £72m during the summer transfer window
Growing up, coaches expected Hojlund’s (right) younger twin brothers to be better than him
Oscar (left) and Emil Hojlund (right) both play for Danish side FC Copenhagen
A former coach said Rasmus wasn’t a standout and that there were other players just as good
Mouroux is not the only one. In January 2022, Hojlund was allowed to leave FC Copenhagen for about £1.5m, after failing to make much of an impact.
Less than two years later and one of the biggest clubs in the world see the 20-year-old as their front-line striker for the foreseeable.
Having passed on Harry Kane, the company line at Old Trafford is that Hojlund will be allowed to acclimatise to life in the Premier League slowly. Four games into the season, however, with two defeats already under their belts and other strikers continuing to misfire, the embryonic big-money acquisition is going to have to hit the ground running. And then some.
‘He was playing for the age group above because he was physically so big, so he was more developed in that way,’ says Mouroux, sporting director at Horsholm Usserod Idraetsklub, or HUI, an amateur club where Hojlund played until he was 12.
‘But there was no single moment when we thought he was going to be a star.
‘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. His father set him up for that.’
Horsholm is an ostensibly middle-class town just north of Copenhagen, nestled quietly on the Oresund coast. It is not renowned as a footballing hotbed, meaning there is only one name on everyone’s lips at the local club when it comes to success stories.
Stories being plural, as there are three of them. All of whom will meet in the Champions League group stages when United take on FC Copenhagen.
‘Without dad Anders giving them all individual coaching after everyone else had gone home, along with their mum driving them all on, none of the brothers would’ve made it,’ Mouroux says.
‘Anders was a carpenter by trade and built a pitch in the basement for when the weather was bad. 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.
‘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.’
Having left HUI aged 12 for Danish top-flight side Brondby, with Mouroux going with him for a spell, Hojlund broke into the FC Copenhagen first team after being retrained from midfielder to striker.
Debuting aged 17, he did not score a single league goal for Copenhagen but did hit five in the 2021-22 UEFA Conference League.
Hojlund impressed at Italian side Atlanta to attract some of Europe’s top clubs including United
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As a result, there was little consternation when he left for Sturm Graz last January. What followed is an ascension nobody, not even those who know him best — his own father admitted his shock at how he ‘blew up’ in Austria — could have foreseen.
‘We were sure that he was a diamond that needed polishing. He had everything we were looking for in a striker,’ Sturm Graz boss Christian Ilzer says.
‘We had video chats with his family and the first in person meeting was at our training camp. He surprised me in all aspects. His confidence and attitude for an 18-year-old was exceptional, also his height, speed, finishing ability and presence in front of the goal was even better than expected.
‘It was like he had been held back before. I wish I could have worked with him longer.’
A few years ago, there were not many teams who operated with a traditional No 9, Pep Guardiola’s fluid ‘false nine’ approach being the choice of many clubs.
But the game and Guardiola are constantly evolving. Erling Haaland has seen to that. And thus the ‘powerhouse’ which the growing Hojlund had become was in vogue again, just at the right time.
‘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,’ Ilzer says.
‘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.’
The goals continued to flow in Austria, not at Haaland-like levels, but enough to persuade Atalanta to prize him from Graz’s grasps after just eight months at the club, for 10 times the fee he arrived for.
Atalanta need not worry, as their profiteering 11 months down the line was just as remarkable.
Hojlund is going to be depended upon rather than nurtured at Old Trafford due to the issues in United’s attack
And so the English adventure begins, but there is no time to take in the scenery.
When he has been played through the middle, Marcus Rashford has looked a shadow of the hitman who plundered 30 goals in all competitions last season. Anthony Martial, eight years into his Old Trafford career, has mustered two shots at goal in three appearances. Brazilian forward Antony remains without a goal or an assist in four starts. And Jadon Sancho could not be further from United manager Erik ten Hag’s thoughts right now.
When fit, given the mediocrity that is all around him, Hojlund is going to be depended upon by United rather than nurtured —something those who know him best insist he can handle.
Sturm Graz turned boy into man, Atalanta allowed the powerhouse to flourish, and now it is United’s turn to polish their diamond and put it on that purple cushion for all to see.
‘When City signed Haaland, he had already scored an obscene amount of goals,’ Mouroux says.
‘He was a safe bet. Rasmus is not, but I am sure United have calculated his potential.
‘As a sporting director myself, I understand why they have taken that chance. Since things blew up in Austria, he’s got much more powerful, so much faster. Now he has everything now. We cannot wait to see what he can become — he is an example to us all.’
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