Premier League

Joshua Zirkzee – would £34m signing fit in at Man Utd?

Marcus Rashford; Rasmus Hojlund

Manchester United are moving with ambition in this summer’s transfer market.

Matthijs de Ligt is looking increasingly likely as a £42m recruit from Bayern Munich, with a pursuit of Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite also still expected to properly beef up the defensive ranks.

Then, there is Joshua Zirkzee and the £34m release clause in his contract with Bologna that makes the 23-year-old attacker another potential steal given his existing quality and room to improve.

The centre of defence and up front were the two most pressing recruitment concerns for United coming into this summer off the back of releasing Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial. So to nail both good and early would be a massive statement of intent.

De Ligt is well known. He was starring for Erik ten Hag in the Champions League with Ajax – a kick away from the 2019 final – as a teenager, and has since commanded massive transfer fees to move to Juventus and subsequently Bayern. But Zirkzee is a slightly different quantity.

The Dutchman hasn’t come out of nowhere. He joined Bayern as a 16-year-old and went on to score four goals in his first nine Bundesliga appearances at the ages of 18 and 19. And, although he took a loan move to Belgium to gain first-team exposure in 2021/22, a switch to Bologna has been the making of him. That culminated in the club qualifying for Champions League football.

When United were first known to be in the market for a new forward this summer, it was rumoured that an older, more experienced player was the idea – someone who could support and complement the development of Rasmus Hojlund, who cost £72m just last year. It was for that reason that players like veteran frontman Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were mentioned in passing.

Marcus Rashford; Rasmus Hojlund

Man Utd need competition and support for existing forwards / Maja Hitij/GettyImages

Zirkzee clearly isn’t that. He’s less than two years older than Hojlund, 21, and has a very similar physical stature to the tall Dane. But his game is different. Where Hojlund is a penalty area bulldozer more in the mould of Erling Haaland, Zirkzee has drawn more comparisons to the likes of Harry Kane and Ronaldinho. He has the pace to run into channels, typically on the inside left, and will drop deep looking for the ball in order to help create rather than necessarily convert chances himself.

That is one explanation why, for a developing player with such a growing reputation as his, he only managed 11 league goals last season. But what Zirkzee would give Ten Hag…

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