The seeds for Manchester United’s pursuit of Wout Weghorst were sown during their Carabao Cup match against Burnley at Old Trafford on December 21. After a 2-0 win over their Lancashire neighbours, the United managers have spoken for the first time to their Turf Moor counterparts. He asked for information about their Dutch attacker.
Wighorst has had a difficult period with Burnley after joining their unsuccessful relegation battle from Bundesliga side Wolfsburg last January, scoring twice in 20 Premier League appearances, but the United staff wanted to understand the circumstances behind those key stats. Feedback has been positive. They were told Weghorst had a very professional approach, an example being the occasions when he visited the training ground on days off to work on his game.
An extension of this personal quest for improvement can be found in Weghorst’s interactions with his new teammates. He would sometimes message other players late at night, sometimes around 10pm, with analysis and opinion on how they could improve themselves.
Weghorst was not in Burnley’s main social circle, a band that had been carefully engineered by manager Sean Dyche over several years, and these attempts to point out other people’s shortcomings got people wrong.
Wighurst clashed with other Burnley players. His confidence was interpreted as arrogance and unhelpful in a relegation battle. After losing in the final against Newcastle United they confirmed they were down, he gave the definite impression that he would not continue to play for the club in the Championship. Indeed, there was a verbal agreement between Weghorst and the higher hierarchy at Burnley that he would be allowed to leave if they ended up in the English Football League for 2022-23.
United view that period at Turf Moor as an anomaly when pitted against the rest of his career. Prior to that, for example, he spent three and a half seasons at Wolfsburg, scoring 59 goals in 118 Bundesliga matches.
Other sources contacted at Burnley have been very complimentary about Weghorst and United believe his attention to detail and strong personality will find a more suitable home at Old Trafford. His stumbling block with Lionel Messi after the Netherlands lost to Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals last month only reinforces that sentiment.
United are confident of their ability to make background checks and have moved on from goals in the past when their findings have raised red flags.
The influence of Erich ten Hag was decisive. Speaking to Dutch broadcasters ahead of the Manchester City game at the weekend, Ten Hag said compatriot Wieghorst’s experiences at Burnley came in a “very short space of time” and seeing whether he could score regularly in the Premier League was a “fantastic challenge”.
Ten Hag has raised the prospect of going to Wighurst, who wasn’t even hinted at by scouts when United looked at teammate Marko Arnautovic last summer. Although Ten Hag did not know Weghorst personally, he had followed his career since he was 16 years old.
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The United manager retired as a player for VFC Twenty in the eastern city of Enschede after the 2001–02 season, as the young Wighurst was just starting out at local clubs RKSV NEO and DETO Twenterand in the same area.
Both men are from that part of their home country. Ten Hag was born in Haxburgen and raised in Weghorst in Born – just a 20-minute drive away. Ten Hag is a direct, so is Weghorst, and the United manager wants big personalities in his dressing room.
United discussed going for Cody Jacbo, but co-chief executive Joel Glazer decided there was no more money to be found shortly before Christmas, around the time that Burnley visited, and the PSV striker has now joined Liverpool. Ten Hag realized United could only seek loans and interest turned to Weghorst, whose appeal was boosted by two excellent goals he scored from the bench against Argentina in that World Cup defeat.
Ten Hag made contact with Wighorst, who were sent by Burnley to Besiktas on a season-long loan after being relegated, to talk about the situation. It was his view that the 30-year-old could add a new dimension to the United squad following the dramatic exit of Cristiano Ronaldo in November. Weghorst saw the opportunity to join a club of United’s stature as a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
Ahead of Saturday’s Manchester derby win, Ten Hag explained his thinking: “He’s a goalscorer, for sure, but he’s also the kind of guy who’ll work with the team. He’s a box-to-box who can also play counter-attacking. I don’t just look at the player and his technical skills, I look at the human total And I think he will contribute additionally to this winning attitude.”
Memphis Depay has also been selected for a second stint at Old Trafford due to a six-month let go in his Barcelona contract. But Depay wanted a long-term deal back, which United were unwilling to offer given the tight financial picture.
Weghorst was identified as target favorite after the new year, and John Murtough, United’s director of football, set out to make the transfer happen. The matter was greatly complicated by the fact that Burnley had no withdrawal option in their deal with Besiktas, meaning an agreement had to be negotiated with the Istanbul club for an early release.
Wighorst scored nine goals in 18 matches for Besiktas, so they were reluctant to lose him. Burnley had some initial caution about the assist because there could be an outcome where they paid a fee to call-up Weghorst only for United to change their minds. United wholeheartedly confirmed their intentions, so the current championship leaders continued.
Burnley’s efforts, spearheaded by COO Matt Williams and backed by chairman Alan Pace, have been driven by a desire to do the right thing by the player, positioning the club so well that future targets are open to joining them, as well as potentially boosting Weghorst’s value for a permanent transfer come summer. .
Burnley have agreed a €10m option to buy with Besiktas, so terminating the loan removes that potential source of cash, but the theory is they will be in line for higher fees than those come in the summer in the case of Weghorst – whose contract at Turf Moor runs until the end of the season. 2024-25 – Do well at Old Trafford, perhaps even from United themselves.
From the start, Besiktas president Ahmet Nur Sebi was open to a deal. Their coach wasn’t cooperative because he was losing an important player. But Wighurst has been pressing for a transfer and, like Anthony at Ajax the previous summer before his move to United, has missed out on training. “There was nothing wrong with him,” Gunness said at a news conference. “Maybe he was injured in the evening at home.”
Weghorst is selected. Publicly, he bid farewell to Besiktas fans after scoring against Kasimpasa on January 7. Privately he began looking for homes in the Manchester area.
However, the following days caused delays due to the requirement of a tripartite agreement. Besiktas, Burnley and United all had to accept the terms. Burnley spoke to Besiktas about the required funds and passed that information on to United. There were changing demands from Istanbul. Every time the price goes up, everything goes back one day.
Besiktas also wanted to arrange a direct replacement and began talks to sign Cameroonian international Vincent Aboubakar from Al-Nasr-joined Saudi club Ronaldo.
Another factor was that United had to go through the NFL, which was diligent in cross-referencing the possibility of financial fairness violations. The loan to Besiktas had to be terminated, which meant the annexation of the Turkish authorities, and then a new loan to United began.
Besiktas are described as “tough negotiators” and became exasperated at early suggestions of a deal. They issued a statement to clarify their position.
Finally, on the morning of January 12, a deal was agreed.
United agreed to pay Burnley £2.6m in loan fee, with Pesquetas receiving €2.825m (£2.5m) in compensation for the early termination of his loan to them. These numbers mean that Burnley receives around £100,000. United pay Weghorst full salary, which is on the lower end of the spectrum for their team, and there is no option or obligation to buy the striker in the summer.
Burnley feel it is good to see some of their players move to big clubs like United and to make good on Weghorst’s promise that they will help him in his career when he joins them.
Weghorst traveled for medical treatment, watched United defeat City 2–1, and the next day took over his media duties at the club.
He was at Old Trafford wearing the number 27 shirt – just like Marouane Fellaini, who became an emergency glass-breaking target with United after he followed his Everton manager David Moyes to Old Trafford in 2013.
Ten Hag estimates Weghorst’s height, at 6 ft 6 in (197 cm), but plans to use him as more than a big forward to try and strike from deep.
Additional reporting: Andy Jones and Adam Leventhal
(Top image: Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)
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