‘Erik ten Hag is perfect for Rasmus Hojlund’ – ex-coach lifts lid on Manchester United striker

Hojlund closely watched as Bayern Munich, Galatasaray and his former club F.C. Copenhagen were placed in the same pot and it didn&apost take long for him to pick up his phone and exchange messages with some of his previous coaches.

The striker spent his formative years with Copenhagen and he remains in contact with club staff. “I spoke with him actually the other day, just after the Champions League draw, where were going to face each other,” Alfred Johansson said.

Johansson is currently in charge of Copenhagen&aposs Under-19s and he&aposs one of a number of coaches at the club who observed Hojlund&aposs development first-hand after having a few different roles in the academy across the years.

“We share that connection between the academy and I know people from the first-team staff still speak with him sometimes,” Johansson, speaking in perfect English, told the Manchester Evening News. “I actually told him were coming for him and he said he was really happy and that he looks forward to these games.”

Hojlund left Copenhagen in January 2022 and the trajectory is his career has been remarkable since his departure from Denmark&aposs most successful club, which resulted in him becoming a 72million player this summer.

Erik ten Hag has been backed to polish Hojlund into a diamond and it&aposs hoped he&aposll eventually become one of Europe&aposs most prolific goalscorers, following extensive scouting and an agreement he possessed unique potential.

Johansson believed Hojlund had talent but did not foresee his meteoric rise. “It was 2017 when he joined the club&aposs Under-15s and I was head coach of the Under-13s at the time. I didnt work personally with him, but obviously, I watched the games,” he said.

“Hes always been a confident player, hard-working and very ambitious. At certain moments in the academy, his self-confidence was naturally lower and at other moments higher, but generally speaking, it was very high for Rasmus.

“I remember my first impression of him was a physically big striker. He was one of those guys who grew a lot in a short period of time, so he wasnt always in the best control of his body, but you could see straight away he was very strong.

“He was pretty explosive in the way he was built on the pitch and it was a challenge to control that power.”

Johansson added: “Back then, ball control was definitely not one of his main attributes. I would say definitely the physicality was a strong point and hes always been very eager to finish, so he always liked to practice in training.

“We know from our statistics at Copenhagen that many players that reach U15 level, especially to Under-17 and U19, end up getting a professional contract, but did we expect to see Rasmus at Manchester United at this early stage?

“Of course you have to be a little bit surprised. You can see the young guys who are performing, but to say they&aposre going to sign for Man United for that amount of money, I think it would be arrogant to say you can see that, at that particular point.”

Although Hojlund was forced to wait to make his debut in a red shirt because he arrived in Manchester with a minor back injury, he made his first appearance for the club from the bench against Arsenal at the Emirates last weekend.

Hojlund&aposs link-up play immediately improved United and an impressed Casemiro urged him to continue to cause problems. The striker physically tested Arsenal defenders William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes and he made a strong first impression.

Johansson explained that Hojlund&aposs ability to bring his teammates into play was something he developed at Copenhagen.

“His link-up play and being effective with a centre-back on his back, playing with his teammates, doing layoffs and holding up play was something he developed a lot in the U19s because it previously was an area to improve,” he added.

“I think generally speaking, U17s was ups and downs for Rasmus, but when he progressed to the U19s, the development was big and so he was, at that point, developing a lot his link-up play, doing better and better and scoring a lot of goals.

“That was definitely something that was spoken about in the academy here. We also thought we could improve Rasmus&apos movement in the opposition&aposs box and his finishing under pressure, which he needed to improve.

“His pressing and all of his defensive work, during the two years from U17 to U19, had gone from not very good to pretty good, so this was something from a technical and tactical perspective that we spoke about.”

Hojlund is considered a striker who can ferociously press the opponent but that wasn&apost always the case. “I guess hes going to laugh when I tell this story, but there was one period with the U19s when we played 4-4-2,” Johansson said.

“Our former coach of the first-team, Stle Solbakken, who is now Norweigan national team head coach, placed an emphasis on the two strikers putting the first pressure and working very hard defensively, which was a big thing in the club at the time.

“It still is, even though weve changed the system, but we had a meeting with Rasmus because there was a period that he didnt work very hard in the press and if he was pressing and we didn&apost win the ball, he was frustrated and hed walk back.

“So we had a meeting, me and the striker coach Morten Nordstrand, and we told him listen, this needs to happen right now, you need to start improving your press because otherwise theres no chance of reaching the first-team.”

Johansson briefly paused to laugh and continued: “Rasmus looked at us and just said, Yeah, listen Alfred. Its not a secret for anyone that Im not fond of putting pressure – but seeing him now he couldn&apost be more different.

“You could see when he played in Italy, when he plays for Denmark and in his short time at United. Its funny because its one of his strong points now. I think he accepted a modern striker needs to put pressure but he didn&apost at the time.”

Nordstrand scored close to 100 goals in his career and he represented Denmark&aposs national team. He&aposs one of the coaches who worked closely with Hojlund to improve his finishing and he sought to improve the youngster&aposs understanding of his role.

“We could see that the force and power he had was one potential x-factor for him in the future,” Johansson said. “Morten [Nordstrand] is a former F.C. Copenhagen striker and he worked a lot with Rasmus in individual sessions.

“Off the pitch, there was a lot of video, showing him the movement of the ball and how to win your position in the box, deep runs, but on top of that, on the pitch, they worked a lot on movement and finishing in the box with only Rasmus and the &aposkeeper.

“But they also worked very intensely with him within the team context, so if we were having a tactical session where we were attacking against a back four or a midfield four, he would always be onto him individually.

“He would speak to him about what movements to make, what triggers to look for to get in behind and how to link up play, so they worked on that a lot in sessions. He definitely had to work on using both feet to finish.”

Copenhagen being drawn in the same Champions League group as United was significant because along with giving Hojlund the opportunity to play against his former club, it&aposs a chance for him to compete against his younger brothers.

Hojlund is the eldest of three children and his 18-year-old twin brothers, Emil and Oscar, play for Copenhagen. “I love these guys, Ive been working with all of them for many years,” Johansson said with a smile on his face.

“The younger brothers are twins but theyre not very similar-looking. You can definitely tell theyre from the Hojlund family and both of them were actually promoted to the first-team the other day, which was great.

“Oscar is a central midfielder, a traditional box-to-box player with very good technique, very high work ethic and he&aposs strong in the duels. He recovers a lot of balls, hes good in the air and he definitely has a big motor.

“Whereas the other brother Emil is a No.9 like Rasmus, but hes very unlike him. Hes much more talented in the link-up play than Rasmus was at this point. He&aposs not as fast, but hes very strong and amazing in combination play.

“Hes always like a captain when he plays. He structures the team in the build-up and structures the press, but Rasmus was never that kind of guy. He would definitely tell the guy next to him to put pressure, but Emil is the guy who organises the whole team.”

There have already been comparisons made between Hojlund and Erling Haaland but Johansson thinks they aren&apost helpful.

“Were laughing at the comparisons with Haaland,” he said. “Yes, hes a striker, hes left-footed and hes blonde but the similarities stop there. I understand why people do that, but were laughing because Rasmus is Rasmus and Erling is Erling.

“I think we need to look at Rasmus and think about what his development is going to be in the next few years, what he can add and comparing the payers is not very helpful for anyone. I dont really see the point in doing that.”

United believe they&aposve signed a star centre-forward for the future, but there&aposs an understanding at the club that Hojlund remains at an early stage of his career at just 20 years old and he&aposll be given time to adapt to the Premier League.

“I think the key here for me is long-term because I see Ramus eventually starting to add goals. If that happens sooner rather than later, it will be perfect for everyone involved, but definitely long-term he will contribute that,” Johansson said.

“In terms of right now, his work ethic is huge and he will be amazing for Man United in the defensive organisation. He will put pressure, he will track back and in the offensive department, he will make a lot of deep runs and press well.

“His link-up play will also help the team, just as you saw the other day against Arsenal when he came on.”

Johansson continued: “I think for him to have a coach like Erik ten Hag who emphasises hard work and commitment to the project, the game model and the club, I honestly think thats a perfect match for Rasmus.

“I heard Ten Hag speaking about Rasmus and one of the things they looked at when they scouted him in Italy was the dedication he showed in all of the minutes he played. Hes so ambitious, he runs like crazy and wants to do well every minute, doing his best.

“I think its a really, really good match and I believe that Ten Hag and the coaching staff at the club will help working with him and they will improve the offensive qualities that he still needs to improve at that level, for sure.”

Johansson has followed the progress of Hojlund since he left Copenhagen and he admitted everyone in the club&aposs academy is proud of him. “We always follow the guys who leave, whether for the first-team or the rest of the world,” he said.