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05/09/2023 14:27

Hojlund proved Erik ten Hag’s two-word verdict right on Man Utd debut

Erik ten Hag felt two words would do the job. In a press conference dominated by discussion around Rasmus Hojlund ahead of his Manchester United debut, Ten Hag was asked about the mentality of the 20-year-old about to pull on one of the heaviest shirts in world football.

United did their due diligence on Hojlund’s personality as well as his abilities and since his arrival in the first week of August, Ten Hag has had the chance to get to know the Dane who now carries the burden of being the man United’s goalscoring hopes are pinned on.

So what is his mentality like, the inquisitor wanted to know. “He’s brave,” Ten Hag said, with the kind of confidence and forcefulness that we’ve come to expect when he has a point to get across.

Anything else? “He is brave, he has belief and the rest will come.” It was a fascinating answer about a player United acknowledge as a rough diamond that Ten Hag will need to polish.

Unfortunately, a £72million price tag and an expectation he will score goals for the club mean that will happen in the public eye.Hojilund won’t get the chance to fine-tune his craft in a quiet and calm environment. He will do it at a club that attracts more headlines, sound bites, column inches and talk show phone-ins than any other in the world.

So it is understandable to wonder whether a 20-year-old whose experience for the job is one season with Atalanta, a recently successful Serie A club but one with a far lower profile than those in Milan, Rome and Turin, might cope with that.

Ten Hag’s responses invited intrigue as much as anything. Brave isn’t the usual adjective managers turn to when discussing the mentality of their players.

He also praised Hojlund’s “personality” as a reason why that lack of experience isn’t a concern and after just over half an hour at the Emirates there was evidence of what he meant.

His first involvement was to get involved in a wrestle for possession with Arsenal’s 6ft 3ins centre-back Gabriel Magalhães, after using his pace to catch the Brazilian. He then tried to barrel past the same player in the box and went to ground as they tussled for the right of way. Penalty appeals were waved away and despite Ten Hag’s protestations, it didn’t look a spot-kick.

But this showed a player that relished the fight. That he came on and went looking for a scrap with Arsenal’s most physical defender told us plenty about his approach. He didn’t look overawed inside the Emirates and you could see why Ten Hag labelled him as brave and why he has lifted the spirits of his teammates in training over the previous week.

He has possibly done enough to earn a start against Brighton now, especially if his match fitness develops with action for Denmark in the international break. A battle between Hojlund and Evan Ferguson would be fascinating to see, two young, raw strikers with the physical and technical gifts to take them far.

There were signs of what Hojlund will bring to United against Arsenal. His hold-up play was particularly impressive and the backheel flick to Casemiro, which allowed the Brazilian to play in Alejandro Garnacho with a first-time pass, was exquisite. It might have been ruled out for offside, but the construction of the move was excellent.

Hojlund’s rapid pace was also on show. If anything, he was too rapid. A couple of times he ran too quickly and too direct for his teammates to find him, when he could have been better served by halting his run or looking for that yard of space instead.

But these are things that will come. There was enough on show in north London to suggest United have a player with considerable promise. They also look to have one with the bravery to take on the challenge that lies ahead.

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