Erik ten Hag has made a point of bringing in players with character and fire during his short time as Manchester United manager and that is not about to change with the impending loan signing of Wout Weghorst from Burnley.
A recent article from Dutch outlet AD shines a light on the character of the man, described as “the most atypical Dutch footballer of his generation.”
Indeed, at 6’6” and often resorted to as a plan B by Louis van Gaal during the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign, Weghorst hardly looks like the Cruyffian ideal.
This is not a player who was trained in the ‘Ajax way’ from 7 years of age – he was in the third tier of amateur Dutch football at 17 before Heracles decided to take a closer look at him.
Rather than grace and guile, it is fierce determination and willpower that sets Weghorst apart from his contemporaries.
He is a relentless presser, aggressive to the point where he may be downright obnoxious in battling his opponents, possessing an incredible will to win.
The towering forward is, by all accounts, an absolutely excellent trainer, a “beast that always delivers.” So much so that he is said to resort to “fury and snorting” at the prospect of a missed opportunity for extra training. One wonders how he might have reacted to Ralf Rangnick’s frequent holidays between matches last season.
Weghorst’s work ethic, above all else, is impeccable. A player who works so hard that others question why they themselves cannot do more is invaluable to a squad – it raises the bar between matchdays, which in turn brings the team to new levels when it matters most.
That is surely one of the things that will have appealed to Ten Hag who, hailing from the same region of the Netherlands (Twente) and, knowing many of Weghorst’s former coaches personally, will not have been short on references for the frontman.
Perhaps just as vital is how Weghorst reacts to disappointment. Failure at Burnley – arguably the first failed stint of his professional career – prompted a move to the Turkish top flight, where he immediately became a star player. And at the Netherlands’ World Cup training camp, despite often being among the reserves, Weghorst did not let up. He trained even harder, as if the starting spot was only a whisker away.
It would be one thing to bring in a striker happy to play second fiddle to Anthony Martial. But to bring in one who will throw himself through walls to remind his coach of his qualities regardless is an entirely different proposition.
If Ten Hag wants characters, he has certainly found one.
After all, this is the man who told Lionel Messi “walk on, weirdo,” during a World Cup quarter-final. Weghorst is not easily overawed, and United fans can be sure that he will rise to the occasion at United or die trying.
When asked about that incident against Argentina, the Dutchman gave a curt answer.
“Messi knows my name in any case.”
Old Trafford will soon know it well enough too.