Rasmus Hojlund’s coaches expected his brothers to be the stars but now they believe the £73million signing from Manchester United will thrive under the pressure at Old Trafford

When delving into the behind-the-scenes of blockbuster signings, it’s easy to come across youth coaches desperate for a chance to retell the moment when, at the age of seven, they discovered a now-famous superstar who was on ten players ran past before finding the top corner.

It’s often a story they’ve been telling anyone who will listen for years. For Christian Mouroux, a key figure in Rasmus Hojlund’s early career, his £73million transfer to Manchester United triggers an inescapable sense of shock.

“His two younger brothers – the twins Emil and Oscar, both now at FC Copenhagen – were more obvious talents.” “Rasmus was not a standout player,” says Mouroux. “There were other players his age who were just as good.”

“His talents that you see today came much later. I’m not going to lie, I’m very surprised at how much Rasmus spent on this.”

Rasmus Hojlund joined Manchester United for £73 million in the summer transfer window

Rasmus Hojlund joined Manchester United for £73 million in the summer transfer window

Growing up, coaches expected Hojlund's (right) younger twin brothers to be better than him

Growing up, coaches expected Hojlund’s (right) younger twin brothers to be better than him

Mouroux is not the only one. In January 2022, Hojlund was allowed to leave FC Copenhagen for around £1.5 million after failing to make much of an impression.

Less than two years later, one of the biggest clubs in the world sees the 20-year-old as their top striker for the foreseeable future.

Following the death of Harry Kane, the management line at Old Trafford is for Hojlund to slowly adapt to life in the Premier League. However, after four games this season, with two defeats already and further failures from other strikers, the embryonic, expensive acquisition needs to hit the ground running. And even more.

“He played for the above age group because he was so physically big, so he was more developed in that respect,” says Mouroux, sporting director at Horsholm Usserod Idraetsklub, or HUI, an amateur club where Hojlund played until he was 12 years old.

“But there wasn’t a single moment when we thought he was going to be a star.”

“It’s a surprise to sign now for a team that bought him for his performance. “Knowing him, it’s the kind of pressure he’ll thrive under. His father prepared him for this.’

Horsholm is a supposedly middle-class town north of Copenhagen, quietly located on the Öresund coast. The club isn’t exactly known as a football hotbed, which means there’s only one name on everyone’s lips when it comes to success stories at the local club.

Stories are plural because there are three of them. They all meet in the group stage of the Champions League when United take on FC Copenhagen.

“Without Papa Anders, who looked after them all individually after everyone else went home, and without their mother, who drove them all along, none of the brothers would have made it,” says Mouroux.

“Anders was a carpenter by trade and built a parking space in the basement for bad weather.” Sometimes he would train one son for an hour and then come back with another and then another. There was always a Hojlund on our pitches.

“Rasmus still comes here to train when he’s home.” Brings his own bowling pins and balls. “No one has ever seen such dedication, but it’s in their blood.”

Hojlund left HUI at the age of 12 and moved to Bröndby, the Danish first division club. Mouroux accompanied him for a while. After retraining from a midfielder to a striker, Hojlund managed to get into the first team at FC Copenhagen.

Making his debut at the age of 17, he did not score a single league goal for Copenhagen, but did score five goals in the 2021–22 UEFA Conference League.

Hojlund impressed with Italian side Atlanta and brought in some of Europe's best clubs, including United

Hojlund impressed with Italian side Atlanta and brought in some of Europe’s best clubs, including United

So there was little consternation when he moved to Sturm Graz last January. What followed was a rise that no one, not even those who knew him best – his own father admitted to being shocked at how he “exploded” in Austria – could have predicted.

“We were sure it was a diamond that needed to be polished.” “He had everything we expected from a striker,” says Sturm Graz coach Christian Ilzer.

“We had video calls with his family and the first face-to-face meeting took place at our training camp. He surprised me in every way. His confidence and attitude were exceptional for an 18-year-old, while his size, speed, finishing ability and presence in front of goal were 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 weren’t many teams using a traditional number 9 and many clubs chose Pep Guardiola’s fluid ‘false nine’ approach.

But the game and Guardiola are constantly evolving. Erling Haaland made sure of that. And so the “powerhouse” that the growing Hojlund had become was back in fashion, at just the right time.

“In one of his first interviews here he said his playing style had some similarities to Erling Haaland’s. Both in our club and in the media, people laughed or didn’t take him seriously because he was only 18 and hadn’t really shown anything,” says Ilzer.

“But for me it showed how confident he was.” After his first game, in which he scored two goals, all the journalists knew what he was talking about and saw that there were similarities in terms of size, strength and finishing ability.

“The field is a concert stage and he is a rock star who inspires the audience.” He naturally feels comfortable in the spotlight. That’s why it’s made for the biggest stages.”

Goals continued to flow in Austria, not at Haaland’s level, but enough to convince Atalanta to free him from the clutches of Graz after just eight months at the club, for ten times the transfer fee for which he came was.

Atalanta need not worry as their greed for profit eleven months later was just as remarkable.

United's problems in attack mean they will rely on Hojlund rather than promote him at Old Trafford

United’s problems in attack mean they will rely on Hojlund rather than promote him at Old Trafford

And so the English adventure begins, but there is no time to enjoy the scenery.

When played through the middle, Marcus Rashford looked like a shadow of the killer who scored 30 goals in all competitions last season. Anthony Martial, eight years into his career at Old Trafford, has two shots on goal in three games. Brazilian striker Antony remains without a goal or assist in four starting games. And Jadon Sancho couldn’t be further from United manager Erik ten Hag’s thoughts at the moment.

If Hojlund is fit, United will rely on him rather than promote him given the mediocrity that surrounds him – something those who know him best insist he can handle.

Sturm Graz turned the boy into a man, Atalanta let the powerhouse blossom, and now it’s United’s turn to polish their diamond and place it on the purple cushion for all to see.

“When City signed Haaland he had already scored an obscene amount of goals,” says Mouroux.

“He was a sure thing.” Rasmus isn’t, but I’m sure United assessed his potential.

“As a sports director myself, I understand why they took this opportunity. Since there was an explosion in Austria, he has become much stronger and much faster. Now he has everything now. We can’t wait to see what he can become – he’s a role model for us all.”

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Maureen Mackey

Maureen Mackey is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Maureen Mackey joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: maureenmackey@wstpost.com.

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