Analysis / Guest Column / Union

Scouting Mikael Uhre, the Union’s new ace

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Editor’s note: Toke Møller Theilade is a Danish football journalist who covers Brøndby IF for Vilfortpark.dk. His work has appeared in The Blizzard, These Football Times, The Moscow Times, and several Danish outlets.

On January 22, as the transfer window was nearing the end, a message Brøndby fans from all over Denmark had feared, but expected, was published on the club’s website – Mikael Uhre had accepted an offer from a foreign club. Danish media quickly revealed that this club was Philadelphia Union, and the popular top scorer’s time in yellow and blue was coming to an end.

But who is the 27-year-old Danish striker, and what can the Union fans expect from the new signing?

From obscurity to fan favorite

Few Brøndby fans thought much about it when the club announced the signing of Mikael Uhre on a 4.5-year contract in January 2018. With the club fighting to win the championship for the first time since 2005, and Uhre not joining until after the season, little importance was given to the announcement. Add to that, that he was by no means a big name in Danish football at the time, having just scored 11 goals in 83 Superliga matches before joining Brøndby. It was, simply put, difficult to see him becoming much more than a depth piece.

The Brøndby team Uhre entered was the strongest in more than a decade. His teammates included big names such as current Brentford midfielder Christian Nørgaard, Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar, Norwich star Teemu Pukki, and Kamil Wilczek, who would later become the club’s all-time leading top scorer.

Despite the star-packed squad, Brøndby failed to win the championship, throwing it away in the penultimate round. It was thus a broken club with a trauma shared between players, fans and officials that Uhre entered.

Brøndby never recovered from being so close to the promised land, and eight months later, the coach that handpicked Uhre was fired. Not long after, the sporting director left the club as well. The solution, the club found, was to rebuild. Soon after the expensive stars were sold, and a new strategy was built around domestic talent from the academy and cheap signings that could be sold for profit.

In the absence of the stars, Uhre was one of the players that got the chance to prove himself. After scoring just 12 goals in total as a reserve in his first two seasons for Brøndby, he finally became a starter as the front striker in Brøndby’s 3-5-2 formation last season, and he took the chance straight away.

In his second start of the season, Uhre scored a 93rd minute winner away against Brøndby’s arch rivals, FC Copenhagen, and from there one goal quickly led to another.

By the time of the winter break, halfway through the season, Uhre had seven league goals to his name, and Brøndby were unexpectedly leading the league.

Despite both FC Midtjylland and Copenhagen having significantly larger budgets, as well as stronger teams on paper, Brøndby took home the championship for the first time since 2005, with Uhre being one of the most important factors behind the surprising title.

He finished as the league’s top scorer, Brøndby’s first since the 2001/2002 season, and he became one of the leaders on the team. Not only did Uhre score a ton of goals, but he scored some of the most important ones as well. He scored twice against Copenhagen, he scored against Midtjylland, and when he was needed the most – in the second to last round, where Brøndby played 10 against 11 in a game that required three points to take the first place in the league – he scored twice away against AGF.

This season, Uhre’s good form has only continued. With 11 goals in 16 league games and two goals in European football (against Red Bull Salzburg and Lyon), he has by far been Brøndby’s best player this season. His good form even earned him his first cap for the national team.

However, with a contract that expires at the end of 2022, his time with Brøndby was coming to an end. Like Michael Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel, Daniel Agger and many other Brøndby icons before him, he had outgrown the club and was heading to new and bigger challenges.

What does Mikael Uhre bring to Philadelphia?

The story of Mikael Uhre was always an underdog story. Uhre was never among the most promising talents, and he has had to work hard to get to where he is today. He didn’t join an academy until he was almost 17 years old, a late age for Danish players who are usually handpicked before they even become teenagers, and he only has one youth national team cap to his name.

Even after signing his first professional contract with SønderjyskE, Uhre was forced to take a step back and play six months on loan at 2nd tier side Skive IK on an amateur contract, where he was working next to playing football, to get his breakthrough.

The humble background has made Uhre a hard worker, and his biggest strength is his mentality and iron will. Uhre fights for every loose ball, and no opportunity is too little for him to give his all and sprint to chase it. The perfect example of this came in the championship match against AGF last season, where Uhre chased down a short pass from an AGF defender and scored the winning goal. It was an opportunity not many strikers would have earned. You can see the goal after 2:28 in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF2LHjThA_U&ab_channel=Br%C3%B8ndbyHighlights

That he is a hard worker is clearly seen in the statistics as well. Last season, Uhre had the second most sprints in the entire Danish Superliga with 524 in 32 matches, according to data from Superliga.dk. This season, Uhre has the fifth most sprints in the league. The small drop is likely caused by an injury that plagued Uhre in the fall as well as fatigue from Brøndby’s European mid-week matches.

In many ways, Uhre is a classic poacher. He is among the fastest players in the Danish league, where his highest measured top speed has ranked among the top in each of the previous fourth seasons. In fact, his top speed of 35.8 km/h is the second highest measured in the Superliga in the four years where this data exists.

Uhre is also a clinical finisher and lethal in front of goal. One of the best ways of measuring a striker’s quality in front of goal is by comparing their expected goals (xG) with their actual goals. Over Uhre’s last three seasons, he has outperformed his xG by 19.6 %, scoring 36 goals on a xG on 30.1. In the same period for comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo has underperformed his xG by 1.1 %, Lionel Messi has outperformed his xG by 7.3 % and Robert Lewandowski has outperformed his by 11.1 % according to stats from Understat.com.

Uhre is not only a good finisher though. He is surprisingly unselfish, and he has a good eye for his teammates. You can count on him to set up his teammates, if they are in a better position than him.

He is a physically strong striker, who uses his body well to protect the ball, and he is also good in the air. This means he can play as the lone striker if needed to, although he remains best when he has a striking partner up front with him.

That Uhre is a poacher can also be seen on his goal distribution. 38 of his 39 goals in the previous three seasons has been scored within the penalty area, and he is the kind of player that gets increasingly better as he closes in on the opposing goal. He is furthermore capable of finishing with both feet, as well as a skilled header, but his right foot remains his most dangerous weapon.

He is in many ways a pretty complete striker without any glaring shortcomings, but he does have his limitations in the build up play. He is not the kind of player who splits the defense open with crafty passes, and he is usually playing relatively simple football. He is also not a strong dribbler, and tends to use his pace when taking on defenders.

Mikael Uhre leaves Brøndby as one of the most popular players in recent years and as one of the saviors that brought home the championship after 15 years of hurt. Because of his contribution on the pitch and likeable personality, the Brøndby fans have only expressed happiness for him after the transfer became known despite the team’s obvious quality loss. His performances in the previous two seasons has been among the most dominate by any striker in Danish football, and the expectation among both pundits and fans in his home country is that he has everything required to become a big hit in the MLS.

22 Comments

  1. Too many trigger words/descriptions in the article for this to be real for Philly fans. I mean, c’mon, a hardworking, underdog who plays with grit and out hustles everyone else to exceed expectations while leading his team to a championship? A big money, DP signing at a position of need? My calendar says Jan 27 but it’s got to be April Fool’s day right?

  2. John P. O'Donnell says:

    Sounds like he’ll be a cult hero here if this translates to the field with the Union. Philly loves a player who produces from just out hustling an opposing player.

  3. this is legitamtely amazing. he sounds great.

    i have heard carranza be described as elite defensively as well.

    going into this offseason my #1 wish was a nice upgrade at striker.

    we legit got two upgrades. 1 is a legit DP we always wanted with great intangibles, the other is a low risk high reward former 6 million dollar Young Argentine DP who fits our playstyle perfectly.

    its more than i ever could have wished for

  4. I love the ambition this shows, but I have to admit, part of me is a little worried about making a striker who only has 18 months of sustained success our new record signing. Absolutely think and hope it has the potential to go well, especially given Ernst Tanner’s eye for talent. But still, the club essentially just shipped out the top scorer in the CONCACAF Champions league to Chicago to make room for Uhre, so the move definitely feels a bit risky.

  5. Do we know what Kascper’s xG vs G performance was ?

  6. I’m pretty excited about this season! I mean I usually am just to go see live games, but with the upgrades and no big losses, this is above expectations! Really hoping Kai stays! But if not I wish him well! Same for Kasper. 2 guys who represented the team well!

  7. Herr Tanner….

    THANK YOU!

    PERFECT.

    The key piece we needed… done.

    I cannot wait till Feb 26th.
    We was robbed last year.
    NOT this year.

    Doop!

    MLSCup 2022 hosted and won in Chester!!!!

    Make it so………

  8. Show me.

  9. I refer you to PSP’s scouting report on Uhre. Check over the sprint and pace statistics.
    .
    Uhre should be able to get behind defenses in ways Przybylko could not.

  10. USMNT is a joke. 2-0 but they dominated?

  11. I feel like our team is looking like it’s legitimately upgraded however there’s also a lot of big moves happening around the league. Will be interesting to see how we match up against all the reconfigured teams.

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