Football News

Rasmus Hojlund backed to become one of Europe’s best strikers by ex-Man Utd star Lee Sharpe

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:00, 8 February 2024

Former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe has spoken about the club’s current promising young players.

Sharpe discussed the potential of Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, as well as what to do with Marcus Rashford amid links of a move away.

There was also room to discuss transfer wishes for the summer, and Man Utd’s particular dilemma at centre-back, including Harry Maguire.

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SN: Firstly, your immediate reaction to Jurgen Klopp’s announcement on Friday?

HE: Rasmus Hojlund now has four goals in four straight Premier League games. He’s the youngest Man Utd player to ever do that. Do you back him to become one of Europe’s top strikers?

LS: Do you know what? I think I do. I think it wasn’t an easy start for him when he first came in. I think that was to do with a number of issues, I think the team’s not particularly started on a forward footing. I think the team’s had a lot of injuries. I think, as a centre-forward, he’s played with a couple of wingers that are also wingers/centre-forwards and can be quite greedy at times and not lay on as many chances as maybe some wingers.

But I think when you see his work rate, I think when you see the runs he makes in the box to get across defenders, I think it was only a matter of time before he started scoring. Now that he has, fingers crossed for him, this is a run that he just keeps going. I definitely think the potential is there, like you say, he’s a really young lad, to come in as a main striker, as a number nine at Manchester United.

I think he’s dealt with the sort of slow start that he’s had, I think he’s dealt with it really well. He’s kept his work rate up, he’s kept his runs going in the box and down in channels. And I think he’s going to be an exceptional player. I think he’ll be one of the best.

HE: Kobbie Mainoo got a standing ovation in the win over West Ham. Is he Man Utd’s best midfielder right now? What other players across the league (or former players) would you compare him to?

LS: I think, on form at the moment, I think you’ve got to say he is the best midfielder at the club at the moment. Not only is he composed and cool under pressure, and very rarely gives the ball away. I know we’ve seen him do it once or twice but he’s still a young lad and he’s going to do that, but he doesn’t do it in the main.

I think to score the goal he did at Wolves, under the circumstances, and the pressure and timing of it, to nutmeg someone, to drop a shoulder and go inside and then just side foot it in the bottom corner, I think is absolute sheer class. And long may it continue. I think he’s obviously had a good education at the club, coming through the ranks and now the manager trusts him, and I think he feels that trust from the manager and he goes out there and plays his game.

I think he’s strong in a challenge as well, he’s not overawed by the situation. He’s got a hell of a future in front of him, if he just keeps on working and keeps on learning from the experienced players around him.

HE: And since moving to the right seven games ago, Alejandro Garnacho has four goals and an assist. Is this the most exciting trio of Man Utd rising stars in the post-Ferguson era?

LS: They’re looking amazing. I think Garnacho has set, not only the club but probably the world football fans alight. I think he’s electrifying. He’s quick, he likes to go forward, he’s direct. He scores some unbelievable goals as well as creating assists.

And as long as he can keep his feet on the floor, and there’s been rumours of attitude problems, but you don’t see that on the pitch. I think puts a shift in, he works hard. I think it’s early days, I know we’ve seen Garnacho a little bit more than we have Kobbie Mainoo and we’ve only seen Hojlund since the start of the season.

So it is early days and you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. But the potential of these three is absolutely incredible. I think if you can keep people like this around, and you’ve got a few experienced players and then you bring a couple of players in in the summer, I think you’ve got the potential of a really good squad.

They’re electric at the moment, but as I say, you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. They’ve had a few good games together and you sort of start raving about them once they’ve done a season or two at this level.

HE: The summer transfer window should be a big one for Man Utd. Michael Olise seems the most concrete link. Who’s your dream signing for Man Utd?

LS: It’s a tough one, because I don’t really watch a lot of European football, so to pick one out of Europe, I’m not really sure. I think there could be a big overhaul in the summer. There could be quite a few people going and quite a few people coming in. I’m not sure of the tactics of the transfer window for the summer.

It seems that the centre-half situation, I know (Lisandro) Martinez is probably the best one we’ve got, but keeps getting injured. (Raphael) Varane seems to be in and out. The manager doesn’t really fancy Harry Maguire as a regular. Whether he’s prepared to stay there and just be a squad player and fight for a place, we don’t know. (Victor) Lindelof’s the same. Jonny Evans, I’m not sure will be there because of his age, I know he’s done a great job since he’s come back. But centre-half definitely needs to be a thing that needs to be sorted. And a bit of consistency found there so the manager can pick the same sort of back four.

(Diogo) Dalot and (Aaron) Wan-Bissaka, I think Dalot’s probably come on a little bit this year, and Wan-Bissaka always seems to be touted to someone in the transfer window, so I’m not sure if the manager is fully supporting Wan-Bissaka. Luke Shaw, I still love as a full-back, but obviously you probably need cover from him.

The midfield is a difficult one, because there’s so many players in there. When you look at Bruno (Fernandes), (Christian) Eriksen, Mainoo, Casemiro, (Scott) McTominay – Mount, even, to come back. I would have said they could have done with a midfielder too, to sort of take the ball off the back four and carry it to the front three, but I think Mainoo does that really well. And maybe the manager has him pencilled in for that role for next season. So maybe that has changed the shopping list a little bit.

I still think they could probably do with another number nine to help Hojlund out. I think it’s still a big ask for him to play all the games that he will have to play in a season at United, especially if they do qualify for the Champions League, which is looking an outside bet, but you never know. So another number nine, and possibly another winger. I think if (Anthony) Martial, they’re also talking of Antony may be leaving, I think maybe another winger, but it’s difficult.

With me not knowing a lot of European players, it’s hard for me to pinpoint a name. I know they were talking about (Victor) Osimhen, I don’t think he’d be a bad buy but whether they would get him or not. But I’m sure they’re looking at people that are not even on anybody’s radar at the moment as well.

HE: Rashford has been linked to PSG. Too important to sell or can you see Man Utd being tempted to cash in?

LS: I think that depends on Marcus Rashford to be fair. I think if Marcus Rashford still loves being at the club, and wants to give 100% every game. On his day, we’ve seen last season, he’s unplayable. He can score goals, he can create goals, he has absolutely electrifying pace. He’s got great feet, he understands the club, he understands the pressure and what it’s like to play for Man Utd.

So if Marcus Rashford still wants to be at the club and wants to produce those performances, then I don’t think he should go anywhere. But if he’s had his head turned, if he’s unhappy for any particular reason and doesn’t want to be there, then I think you need to let him go, take the money and bring one or two players in on the money that you get for someone that wants to die for the club and work their socks off.

I think it’s simply down to Marcus Rashford and his attitude, and his current situation at the club and how he feels about it.

HE: You mentioned centre-backs for a potential transfer in the summer. Lisandro Martinez has been ruled out with a long-term injury, and you mentioned Harry Maguire’s not really been in favour. But do you think Man Utd were lucky that he didn’t join West Ham in the summer?

LS: I think they are, because I still think Harry Maguire is a good player. I don’t think he’s become a bad player overnight. I think he’s become a bit of a scapegoat in the media for what’s been really poor team performances.

I think there’s been a mixture of, he’s been a little bit exposed defensively by the sort of players in front of him not working as a team and not looking after him enough. I also think he’s put a couple of nails in his own coffin in passes he’s tried to make, and positions he’s taken the ball in. At times, certainly last season, I think the goalkeeper gave him the ball when he shouldn’t have done and left him in positions he shouldn’t have been put in. So I think he has been a little bit unfortunate at times, but I still think he’s a good player.

Is he a Man Utd first choice? I’m not so sure at the moment. Is he prepared to sit there and not be first choice with his England career on the line with that? I’m not so sure. So there’s a big conversation to be had about Harry Maguire in the summer. Success is built, you generally see on a back five, a goalkeeper and a back four that stay stable, that know each other’s game, that trust each other and know each other. And (Erik) Ten Hag has not been able to do that for most of this season. So I think that’s important that they try and find someone that’s going to be able to do the job, and do the job regularly and consistently.

Like I say, this season, he’s not been able to do anywhere near that.

Lee Sharpe was speaking to Squawka on behalf of luckyblock.com.