In our weekly Scout feature, we take a deep dive into an emerging player on track to become a footballing superstar before our very eyes.
This week’s edition focuses on Man Utd striker Joe Hugill, a player high on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s radar after recently slotting four past Liverpool in a Premier League 2 game.
Hugill is a centre-forward who is quickly gaining a reputation as a lethal finisher in the Under-23s.
Bought from Sunderland in the summer of 2020, Man Utd fended off strong interest from Arsenal, Tottenham and Leeds to land the youngster for the exceedingly generous fee of £300,000. Since then, the 17-year-old has fitted seamlessly into the Red Devils’ youth ranks.
After blazing a trail through the Under-18s, Hugill was quickly drafted into the U23s and has hit the ground running.
Nine goals have been notched in 12 appearances – a fine record by any standard. But what makes Hugill’s accomplishments stand out is just five of those 12 appearances were starts.
One of those starts in particular set pulses racing – a ruthless four-goal display that tore the defence of Liverpool’s U23s apart in a 6-3 victory.
Why the hype?
Operating at a goal every 72 minutes at current level, Hugill has already thrust himself into the upper echelons of strikers in the Premier League 2.
His efforts saw him appropriately rewarded with a nomination for the competition’s Player of the Month award for January.
Joe Hugill has been nominated for the #PL2 Player of the Month award for January 👏🏼
The 17 year-old has been directly involved in 17 goals for #MUFC U23s (10) & U18s (7) in 16 appearances 🔥
— Ben Ibson (@Ben_Ibson) February 8, 2021
The backbone behind his early exploits stems from possessing an unusually rounded set of skills for someone so young.
The right-footer is equally adept at plundering goals with his left. Calling it a ‘weak’ foot would simply be inaccurate.
His intelligent movement and ability to make well-timed runs are traits that will hold him in good stead at the elite level.
Furthermore, standing at 6ft 2in tall, he can mix it up with physical centre-backs and add to his tally from the air.
Reminds you of a young…?
Hugill is not the quickest, but his tremendous sense of anticipation allows him to be in the right place at the right time 99 times from 100.
This is reminiscent of a former Man Utd hitman who made light work of Premier League defences – Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The great Dutchman had ice running through his veins when within sight of goal. And what made Van Nistelrooy so potent was his determination to stay in the danger areas at all times.
The most goal-hungry centre-forwards like Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez know maximum damage can be done in the width of the area. They can often be found tapping in from rebounds and feasting on defensive mix-ups that leave the uninitiated wondering whether it’s just pure luck.
Calling them lucky couldn’t be further from the truth, however. Their predator’s instinct often puts them in positions to capitalise where other, less opportunistic forwards might never take the gamble.
Hugill already possesses that goal-hunter’s mentality and has already been compared with Van Nistelrooy as a result.
Goals against Liverpool are special regardless of the level when wearing a Man Utd shirt. Notching four in one match? That’s enough to put you on the path to greatness.
What’s more, each goal was wildly different and showcased perfectly just how well-versed Hugill is at the varying aspects of centre-forward play.
Without further ado…
The Experts’ View
Hugill was given a ringing endorsement by a former club stalwart now working as a commentator on academy games long before his masterclass against Liverpool.
Arthur Albiston – a veteran of nearly 500 appearances for the club – picked out Hugill over more established stars at U23 level like Hannibal Mejbri as one to watch.
Albiston suggested a knock on Solskjaer’s door will be inevitable should his goalscoring form continue. Should that knock come, the Norwegian seems highly likely to welcome him with open arms.
“If we go from that game [vs Liverpool], I’d pick Joe Hugill. Four goals by Hugill, he’s a top striker as well, we’re looking forward to seeing his development.”
Tell us something we don’t know…
Hugill could’ve gone one better in his performance against Liverpool, but handed a late penalty to new recruit Diallo.
Having just met the Ivorian earlier that day, Hugill believed it would help integrate Diallo into the group. That was after limited interaction through Covid-19 protocols.
A kind gesture, but one that Solskjaer did not fully comprehend given his background as a cold-blooded scorer.
“Why Joe didn’t take the penalty himself to get five goals, I’m going to ask him,” Solskjaer said without jest (via the Athletic).
A perfect fit for…?
Uruguayan veteran Edinson Cavani arrived in the summer amid doubts over his age and longevity at the top.
Cavani has answered those questions emphatically – much to Gary Neville’s surprise.
With talk of a new contract swirling, Hugill’s chances at an extended run in the first team seem more than a touch ambitious at present.
No matter, because Hugill has yet another tick in his column – time.
The starlet does not turn 18 until October. Man Utd’s U23s currently boasts some of the country’s most promising young talent.
Diallo, fellow scout alumni Mejbri, Shola Shoretire… the list goes on.
The guiding hand of academy coach Neil Wood is the perfect place for Hugill to be right now. But when a call-up to the senior team does arrive, you can guarantee one thing. Goals, goals, goals.
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