Nashville SC fans are, by now, aware that their club signed a former German Youth International, with a transfer price around $3 million, and that Hany Mukhtar’s highlight reel is very impressive. What do those around his soon-to-be former club, Brøndby IF, think of him, though? I went to the source. Danish journalist Steffen Gronemann initially broke the Mukhtar transfer story, and he provides a local view on the 24-year old.
How good is the Danish league? Where does Brøndby fit in the pecking order in that league, and where did Hany Mukhtar fit in the pecking order of individual importance to Drengene fra Vestegnen? For starters, it’s undeniable that Mukhtar was a fan favorite for supporters of the club. The outpouring of support on social media has been universal, without the typical input from a few bad apples in the fanbase after a transfer.
“Brøndby has that largest fan base in Denmark, and he has been one of their best players in recent years, so obviously he is popular and will be missed,” said Steffen Gronemann of BT Sport. “He is a very laid back guy, who really let his feet do the talking. Not a big profile off the pitch. A quite boring character in a way, but has the flashy modern football player thing going on with fancy expensive clothes, bling-bling and ‘cool’ pictures on Instagram.”
For a guy who wanted to rely on his game to speak for him, well, those feet spoke loudly. Brøndby didn’t win the league during his time with the club – one of the few regrets Mukhtar will likely have with his mid-season departure on the way in January – but the side came close.
During that stretch, Mukhtar was the best player on the biggest club in the country. His influence spanned not only locally, but outside the Copenhagen suburbs to encompass the whole of the Kingdom. Danes took notice every time the young German hit the pitch. Of course, that means they took note of his flaws, as well.
“He has very much been a key player for Brøndby, especially in the 2017-18 season where Brøndby were seconds away from winning the league,” Gronemann said. “When he came to the club on a loan deal in the summer 2016. He was seen as a player who was to good for the Danish league [after playing for Hertha Berlin and Benfica], but he needed a place where he could play regularly. He was an instant hit among the fans and showed his huge potential. It was seen as a major victory for the club when they made a permanent deal with Mukhtar a year later.
“The 2018-19 season, everything was chaos in Brøndby. The club had lost a lot of key players and Mukhtar was in bad shape and did not perform on his highest level. His level dropped with the team’s bad performance. Very disappointing for him and the club.
“At his best he was one of the best players to ever have played in the Danish league. We did not see him at his best frequently enough – but even his average level was also by far better than most players in that league. He will be remembered as a great player for Brøndby in these recent years: A player who could have been one of their best ever, but who did not quite fulfill his full potential.”
At just 24 years of age (turning 25 early in the MLS season), there’s plenty of time to change that narrative. Mukhtar has consistently mentioned that choosing Nashville is a decision based in the excitement of being part of something new and big. He has also, however, emphasized that it is about his personal development. A couple years succeeding in MLS can turn a player from a $3 million transfer into a much more highly-regarded (and highly-compensated) prospect for Nashville to sell on to a major European league, reaping the financial reward that Brøndby didn’t quite realize.
It’s a career path that’s been more familiar for Central and South Americans in recent MLS seasons – from Atlanta United’s purchase of Miguel Almirón out of Argentina (and later sale to Newcastle United in the English Premier League), to Inter Miami’s upcoming transfer for 19-year old Venezuelan Christian Makoun – but the desire to use MLS as a stepping stone to the bigtime can be a prime selling point for American clubs. Mukhtar is one of Nashville SC’s first opportunities to become an emblem for that with a player arriving from overseas.
A former German Youth International whose skills are apparent (and whose profile within his country’s national team setup could drive up his price should he be sold on), Mukhtar could blossom in the United States.
“He has predominantly been used as a number 10, the playmaker in a free role,” Gronemann explained. “He can also be used as a number 8 or as a winger even though he is not pacy. He is incredibly gifted technically, his passing game is excellent and his sense of space is good. He is a good finisher, scores from free kicks and has deadly corner kicks. He is a good finisher from outside the box and has good late runs into box.
“He is quick in his mind, but not very fast in general. This is one of his major weaknesses. He has trouble dribbling or running past players – on the highest level. But he has some tricks and good movements. If had more speed he would never have played in the Danish league – or in the MLS. I would call him a poor man’s Mesut Ozil. Has the same weaknesses and strengths – but of course on a bit lower level. Mentally, I think he lacks a bit as well. Especially in hard times as we saw last season. He did not manage to up his game when things were a bit tough for his team.”
If Mukhtar does refine the weak points of his game at a level of play a slight step above the Danish League (where he’s one of the most expensive outgoing transfers of all time), making it back to Europe – but this time in a Big Five league – is a possibility. He’s already among the most notable players to leave the Superligaen. The bittersweet feeling (for both Mukhtar and Brøndby) of departing without a trophy shouldn’t overshadow what he accomplished with the club. Should he achieve big things in Major League Soccer, he’ll be one of the first to leave Denmark and do so.
“Most Danish players who have tried their luck in the MLS have come from smaller clubs in the Danish league, and they have not been big profiles,” Gronemann explained. “I can’t really recall any great success stories. Jimmy Nielsen, the goalkeeper did pretty well [ed: you may recognize the name as the head coach of Hartford Athletic], but players like Emil Larsen [three games with the Columbus Crew in 2006] and Bashkim Kadrii [11 games on loan with Minnesota United in 2017] have struggled.
“If you’re a really good player in the Danish league you dream of going to one of the bigger European leagues: MLS is not your first priority. But maybe this can change as it seems the MLS has improved a lot and teams can offer some quite good salaries.”
The narrative can change with the arrival of one of Denmark’s high-profile players ever to end up in Major League Soccer. Mukhtar will have a key role on the team – joining winger David Accam and strikers Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster as the offense-minded players committed to the 2020 roster already – and living up to the expectations could open new doors for years to come.