Erik ten Hag 'speaks with Joshua Zirkzee' as Man Utd look to win transfer race

  • Man Utd hoping to beat AC Milan to Joshua Zirkzee summer transfer
  • Bologna forward has affordable €40m release clause that could be triggered
  • Erik ten Hag has met with his representatives and spoken to player
Joshua Zirkzee is wanted by Man Utd
Joshua Zirkzee is wanted by Man Utd / Jonathan Moscrop/GettyImages

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag is reported to have spoken directly with Joshua Zirkzee as the Old Trafford club attempts to persuade the Bologna striker to join them.

The former Bayern Munich talent has returned to prominence in the last 12 months, having been a key part of the Bologna team that recently finished fifth in Serie A to secure a place in the Champions League after a 50-year absence from the top table of European competition.

Zirkzee has been heavily linked with United for several weeks and Sky Sport Germany's Florian Plettenberg has explained a "personal meeting" has now taken place between Ten Hag and members of the player's camp. The United boss is also said to have had a conversation with Zirkzee, although not thought to be face to face as he is currently with the Netherlands at Euro 2024.

The Premier League side are seemingly willing to trigger a €40m (£34m) release clause in Zirkzee's contract with Bologna that would bypass his club and leave the decision solely down to the player.

However, AC Milan are also in the hunt, which would mean staying in northern Italy, leaving Zirkzee to make a choice of which side he wants to join. Focusing on Euro 2024, that isn't likely to happen until after the Netherlands are no longer in the tournament – they face Romania on Tuesday night.

Zirkzee is with the Netherlands a Euro 2024
Zirkzee won't decide future until after Euro 2024 / ANP/GettyImages

Zirkzee was polished by Bayern's youth ranks after joining at 16, going on to score four goals in his first nine Bundesliga appearances in 2019/20. He later had a breakout season on loan at Anderlecht, netting 16 times in 38 league games as a 20-year-old, before Bayern agreed a permanent transfer with Bologna in 2022 but retained a sell-on clause reported to be as much as 40%.

Having recently turned 23, the forward wasn't prolific for Bologna, scoring a relatively modest 11 times in Serie A last season. But while he fits the physical frame of a typical 'number nine', Zirkzee is noted for his pace in wide channels and an ability to also drop deeper into more of a play-maker role. The latter characteristic has drawn comparisons with Harry Kane and Ronaldinho.

United, having released Anthony Martial last month, were initially thought to be seeking an older more experienced striker to support Rasmus Hojlund's ongoing development. But Zirkzee, while similar in terms of age and unlockable potential, could complement the Dane in different ways.

The other pressing need for Ten Hag and United this summer is a centre-back after deciding not to use an extension option in Raphael Varane's contract and releasing him. Jonny Evans played more games than expected in 2023/24 as an emergency stop-gap signing, while Victor Lindelof has now entered the final year of his current deal after a 12-month option was triggered in January.

Matthijs de Ligt has re-emerged as plausible option after Bayern Munich placed a relatively affordable price tag on the 24-year-old Dutchman, formerly of Ajax and Juventus.