Manchester United's Wout Weghorst And The Art Of The Short-Term Signing

Weghorst is the latest in a lineage of stopgap signings
11:45, 26 Jan 2023

At the third time of asking, Wout Weghorst scored his first Manchester United goal on Wednesday night. The Netherlands international notched his side’s second against Nottingham Forest in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup. Weghorst has joined on-loan from Burnley for the remainder of the season. The signing was conceived as a short-term stopgap after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Al-Nassr FC. After Weghorst has scored an important goal in a cup semi-final, you’d have to say the signing is looking like a successful one. But this is far from the first time United have got a short-term signing right.

In 2006, the legendary former Celtic and Barcelona striker Henrik Larsson returned to his first professional club, Helsingborg. Due to where the Swedish Allsvenskan’s off-season fell, the opportunity arose for Larsson to play on loan at a Premier League side between January and March.


The iconic Swede scored on his debut in an FA Cup victory over Aston Villa, adding two more strikes across 13 games at the club. He also added a Premier League strike against Watford and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Lille in the Champions League. Such was the quality and professionalism displayed by Larsson during this spell, manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted to the press, “I would have done anything to keep him”. The Scotsman’s admiration for Larsson was clear when he applied to the Premier League for special dispensation to give the player a winner’s medal when they lifted the title, despite him playing less than the requisite ten games.

The fond memories of Larsson’s spell were evoked once more in 2020. While former Watford striker Odion Ighalo perhaps did not enjoy the same pedigree as the ex-Barca striker, but his capture on a half-season loan from China’s Shanghai Shenhua was a similar deal in terms of its scope.

The Nigeria international actually scored more goals than the great Larsson had managed 13 years before. Five goals across 19 games in all competitions was a fine return when you consider the striker was usually used from the bench. His efforts helped his side reach the semi-finals of every cup competition they contested that year, as well as finishing third in the Premier League. Ighalo stayed on for the first half of the following season but struggled to recreate his impact. But his brief, respectable United legacy was already confirmed.

SM News Odion Ighalo 02jpg

While the Red Devils seem to do these sort of sticking-plaster transfers quite well, other clubs have had success in this area. Cross-city rivals Manchester City courted controversy with their complicated, semi-internal deal for Frank Lampard to join them in 2014.

Ostensibly a loan from sister club New York City FC, who had already announced his signing, it later transpired that he had signed directly with the Cityzens as a free agent. Initially, the deal was supposed to end at the commencement of the 2015 MLS season. But instead, after impressing in City blue, Lampard stayed with the Premier League club until the end of the season. But despite the confusion, Lampard’s eight goals in 38 games marked his final English season out as a successful one.

The different start times for the MLS have brought other players over to the Premier League. USMNT legend Landon Donovan had previously spent time at Bayern Munich during the off-season, before rocking up at Everton in 2010. The LA Galaxy star impressed at Goodison Park, even scooping the club’s January Player of the Month award. While his employers resisted an attempt to extend the loan, he was allowed back in 2012 for another successful spell.

The MLS schedule allowed a legend to be reunited with his club in 2012. Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal on-loan from New York Red Bulls. Initially, Henry had just been training with the Gunners, but Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh’s participation in the African Cup of Nations saw Henry provide cover. 

Henry made his second Arsenal debut as a substitute against Leeds United in the FA Cup. The France international would score the only goal in a 1-0 victory, sending nostalgic Gunners fans into raptures. His loan ended how it started two months later, with Henry scoring another winning goal. This time it was a stoppage time strike in a 2-1 win over Sunderland.

David Beckham made these sort of spells something of a signature during the latter half of his career. Plying his trade at LA Galaxy meant he was available while most of Europe’s top leagues were still playing. This saw him undertake a pair of spells at AC Milan, where he made a total of 33 appearances. When he left Galaxy, he would end his career with another short-term appointment. Beckham spent the second half of the 2012-13 season at Paris Saint-Germain, lifting the Ligue 1 title in the process. 

These short-term deals can be fun for fans. They create scenarios you never thought you’d see, whether it’s Larsson in United red, Lampard in City blue, Henry back in North London or Beckham winning French football’s top prize. Some end up as nothing more than the answer to a trivia question. Others become a small but valued part of a club’s history. After seeing Weghorst potentially fire them to a first domestic cup final since 2018, United fans will be hoping for the latter.

man utd to win the efl cup: 4/6*

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