Shortly after Renato Sanches sealed his €35 million move to Bayern Munich, rumours started to circulate that as part of the deal, Benfica have secured the first option on the Bavarians’ young Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. But who is Højbjerg, and what would he bring to Benfica’s midfield? We asked Shantanu Paranjape from Bayern Central for the inside scoop.
Højbjerg joined Bayern from Brøndby in July 2012. Nine months later, he became the club's youngest Bundesliga debutant aged 17 years and 251 days. The following season, he made only 9 appearances under new coach Pep Guardiola, although he was a surprise starter in the German cup final against Dortmund, when he delivered an outstanding performance at right wing-back. He has spent the last 2 seasons on loan at Augsburg and then Schalke. At Augsburg, he scored from 25 yards on the final matchday to seal the club's Europa League qualification. He initially struggled at Schalke, but has now secured a starting place. Højbjerg is a regular for Denmark, and has already made 15 international appearances at the age of 20.
He is an all-round midfielder, who contributes to his team both in attack and defence. As such, he can be played in a double pivot alongside a more defence-minded midfielder, or in a more dynamic midfield of three. Playing against Dortmund as a wing-back, he showed that he is versatile too.
He was the youngest player in Bayern’s treble-winning squad of 2012/13, and was regarded as the heir apparent to Bastian Schweinsteiger. He is a multi-talented midfielder, so the Schweinsteiger comparisons are valid, but for me, he is a mixture of Owen Hargreaves and Michael Ballack. Like both of these players, he can operate in multiple positions and is technically very gifted.
Højbjerg is quite mature for a 20-year old. He is a smart player with good technical ability. He likes to dribble and is quite comfortable on the ball. His long-range passing is good, and he shoots well from outside of the box; his only international goal was scored from 20 yards. He netted 12 times in 44 games for Bayern’s second team, so he clearly has an eye for goal. He doesn't shirk the physical side of the game either; he is 6'1" tall, robust and combative.
Decision making! Sometimes he holds onto the ball a bit too long when he should pass it earlier. At others, he releases the ball too quickly when he has the time and space to look up and pick a pass. Besides this, he has every quality to become a world-class midfielder.
Despite starting 10 of their last 12 league games, there has been little talk of Schalke making a move to retain Højbjerg's services. Borussia Mönchengladbach have been mooted as potential suitors, and Kicker has also reported on interest from unspecified English clubs. The Benfica rumours began when he was mysteriously listed as a Benfica player on SkySports.com. This led to speculation that the Eagles had secured a transfer option on the youngster as part of the Renato Sanches deal.
Generally speaking, Bayern don't price their fringe players out of the market, so a transfer fee of 8 million Euros is possible. Alternatively, another loan isn't completely out of the question.
How he would fit in at Benfica
Rui Vitória has worked well with several youngsters this season, and if the Dane shows hunger, he will develop quickly. He is not a direct replacement for Sanches, but he would complement Fejsa’s more defensive style with his all-round game.
Likelihood of a move to Lisbon
3/10. Højbjerg has a contract with Bayern until 2018, although his agent has hinted that he may leave the club sooner. He has had few opportunities in Munich, and after Renato Sanches’ signing, his chances have become even slimmer. A lot will depend on how highly he is rated by incoming boss Carlo Ancelotti. He would certainly be a central figure at Benfica, but if Schalke, Mönchengladbach or a Premier League club come calling, it is hard to see him moving to Portugal.
Full name: Pierre-Emile Kordt Højbjerg
DOB: 5th August 1995 (Age 20)
Club: FC Schalke 04 (on loan from Bayern Munich)
Position: Central midfield
Height: 1.85 m
Preferred foot: Right