One of the major priorities for Manchester United heading into the summer transfer window was the signing of a new top-class centre-forward, with the Red Devils having been left somewhat depleted in that department following the acrimonious exit of Cristiano Ronaldo back in November.
While January loan arrival Wout Weghorst plugged a gap for a brief period – albeit rather unsuccessfully with just two goals to show for his efforts – the towering Dutchman’s subsequent exit left manager Erik ten Hag with Anthony Martial as his sole senior centre-forward option, a player who has become more familiar with the treatment table than bursting the net in recent times.
Following weeks of speculation at the start of the window, the Red Devils ultimately set their sights on Atalanta hotshot Rasmus Hojlund to fill that longstanding void in attack, with the 20-year-old Dane having been snapped up for an eye-watering fee of £72m, despite netting just nine Serie A goals last season.
A frustrating early injury setback has left the former Sturm Graz ace facing a wait to make his much-anticipated debut, however, albeit with supporters likely to be excited at the prospect of eventually witnessing a figure in action who has earned comparisons to fellow Scandinavian striker, Erling Haaland.
For all the undoubted promise that the youngster possesses, the jury is out on whether his raw talents can carry the goalscoring burden both this season and beyond, with questions likely to be asked as to why a certain Harry Kane didn’t end up in Manchester instead.
Why didn’t Man United sign Kane?
Reports as far back as March had indicated that the England captain had been identified as Ten Hag’s leading centre-forward target heading into the summer window, with Spurs’ record goalscorer having been touted for an exit with just a year left to run on his contract at the time.
As 90min reported in May, United’s original plan appeared to be to bring in a proven option like Kane as well as a second, more youthful striker to support him, albeit with Hojlund proving to be the only attacking recruit of the window – even despite the club’s hectic deadline day dealings.
Quite why the Red Devils did not do more to try and prise Kane from N17 is something to ponder, although the indications were that the club were wary of having to deal with stubborn Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, with the latter man seemingly intent on not selling his prize asset to a Premier League rival.
As it proved, rather than getting embroiled in a drawn-out saga – a decision to no doubt be admired – United turned their attentions away from Kane toward Hojlund, with the 30-year-old instead sealing a big-money move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, amid his long-awaited desire for silverware.
Although perhaps an astute move to walk away from their pursuit of Kane, the Old Trafford outfit are gambling on their youthful new addition to make an instant impact, particularly with Martial – who has started just once this season so far – still not to be relied upon.
To then help ease the burden on Hojlund, Ten Hag should well consider handing a permanent promotion to an exciting member of the club’s academy ranks, in the form of 19-year-old starlet, Joe Hugill.
Who is Joe Hugill?
As The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell revealed on deadline day, the United hierarchy opted not to send the young Englishman out on loan in favour of keeping him under the watchful eye of Ten Hag at Carrington, with the teenager also said to be in line for a new contract extension, until the summer of 2026.
That bumper new deal for the £2.1k-per-week sensation is no doubt just reward for his fine form at youth level since having been signed from Sunderland back in 2020, with the Red Devils fending off rival interest from the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Leeds United at the time.
A rather prolific and “clinical” figure in attack – as hailed by journalist Josh Bunting – Hugill boasts a haul of 18 goals in just 24 games for the club’s U18 side, having also gone on to score 25 goals in 49 outings while in the U21 set-up as a sign of his devastating finishing prowess.
Part of the side that claimed FA Youth Cup glory last year, alongside the likes of Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho, the 6 foot 2 ace will no doubt be hoping to follow in the footsteps of their pair by truly forcing his into Ten Hag’s senior ranks, having already had a taste of the first-team during pre-season.
The Durham-born ace notably netted late on during the opening friendly fixture of the summer against rivals Leeds, with that strike – and his all-round performance – earning praise from ex-United man and MUTV pundit Luke Chadwick at the time:
“He’s really old school. His movement is superb. I was really impressed. He’s such a brilliant runner, with a willingness to get behind the back four.”
Also previously described as a “real natural finisher” by Bunting, it is perhaps easy to see why the youngster has also earned comparisons to that man Kane, with the hope being that he can emulate the Bayern machine by transitioning from youth star to first-team hero in the years to come.
While Hugill has thus far not been part of a matchday squad for United this season – with a competitive senior bow still yet to come – he will no doubt have caught Ten Hag’s attention with two goals in just four appearances so far this term, including netting against Stockport County in the recent EFL Trophy meeting.
Of course, it is a major step up trying to emulate such a promising goal return at first-team level, although the Durham-born gem has perhaps warranted the chance to try and establish himself as a possible understudy to Hojlund moving forward, particularly with Martial unable to remain injury free.
Such a group of centre-forward options, on the face of it, does not look like it will be enough to power United to silverware in the way that Kane potentially could have done, although Ten Hag could ease that transfer failure by finding his own version of the Englishman in Hugill.