From an early stage in his Bayern Munich career, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was tipped for greatness.
After impressing for the reserves, he made his debut for the senior Bayern side at the age of 17. A year later, he put in a yeoman’s effort out of position at right-wing-back in the DFB-Pokal final, days before making his first senior appearance for Denmark.
Yet since 2014, things have gone awry for Hojbjerg. Shortly after the Pokal final, and amid rumors of a possible loan, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge announced, via the club's official website: "He's our player and he's staying!"
Hojbjerg would play just 285 minutes in the Bundesliga during the first half of the following season before being loaned to Augsburg, per Transfermarkt. He earned more regular playing time at the WWK Arena and returned a more confident and capable player, but Bayern ultimately weren't convinced enough to keep him.
In a curious turn of events for a club known for its early transfer market dealings, Bayern loaned Hojbjerg to Schalke on August 31, 2015. It smacked of a hastily made decision and resulted in a more or less wasted year for the youngster.
Schalke had just signed Johannes Geis and had their own 1995-born central midfield starlet in Leon Goretzka. The pair formed the Gelsenkirchen side's midfield throughout the campaign, with Hojbjerg only earning regular minutes after an injury to Goretzka.
Hojbjerg started ahead of Geis on a couple of occasions towards the end of the season, but overall, the Dane's performance was quite poor: Kicker's aggregate player ratings placed him as Schalke's second-worst player of the season, with only Franco di Santo lower.
Despite his late-season upturn, it's clear that Hojbjerg is not ready to compete for playing time in one of the world's most competitive midfields. And accordingly, last month he announced to Danish newspaper BT (h/t Deutsche Welle) that he will leave Bayern this summer.
"I'm going out and finding the right match," he said. "I'll go out and find something that suits me. However, it is clear that it does not need to be a top club. I need to find a place where there is perspective."
And so the club-hunting has begun. Hojbjerg noted in the BT interview that the league in which he will compete next year is undecided, and comments have recently swirled around Liverpool fan blogs suggesting Jurgen Klopp may be the right coach to bring Hojbjerg to the next level.
Klopp has a great record of promoting young players, but in moving to Anfield, Hojbjerg would be taking quite a risk. To play in the Premier League and especially under Klopp would require considerable physical development from the player. He stands a formidable 1.85 meters and is approaching athletic maturity as he approaches his 21st birthday in August.
At the same time, the fact that Dennis Aogo started ahead of Hojbjerg after Geis' lengthy suspension last fall suggests the Dane just lacks a bit of physicality in his game.
It's something he could develop under Klopp, but there are serious question marks to be asked. And if Liverpool are in the market for a few new signings (they certainly have the money for it), Hojbjerg could well find himself in a similar situation at Liverpool as he did at Bayern.
A safer move would be to stay in a league in which physicality is not quite as emphasized as in England, one in which his technical skills would be especially valued. Spain and Germany are perhaps the two best options, among which the latter would probably be safest for a player down on his luck.
Familiarity helps, and staying in Germany would be a safer bet. To that end, a move to Schalke (permanently), Dortmund or Leverkusen would be a bit too big a risk due to the competition in each squad, while Hojbjerg's style would clash with that of Mahmoud Dahoud at Monchengladbach. Returning to Augsburg would be a relatively easy switch.
Augsburg lost head coach Markus Weinzierl to Schalke last week, but replacement Dirk Schuster is more than capable of taking the reins at the Bavarian side. He took Darmstadt from the 3. Liga to the Bundesliga in two seasons, and finished level on points with Augsburg at the end of the most recent campaign.
It's quite a remarkable achievement for a side new to the Bundesliga and with such limited personnel and financial resources.
Hojbjerg would fit into the Augsburg midfield well alongside captain Daniel Baier, playing in his natural, box-to-box midfield role. Dominik Kohr is a talented player for that role, but the 22-year-old isn't competition on Goretzka's level, and Hojbjerg would favor his chances of starting on a regular basis.
Ja-Cheol Koo and Halil Altintop are other potential competitors for a central role in the Augsburg midfield, but if anything, their forward-minded abilities would only complement Hojbjerg's talents. It was an area Augsburg lacked last season, and that showed as they finished just two points clear of the relegation zone.
Sometimes it's difficult for a player to take a step back, but in Hojbjerg's case, there is no other way to package it: He had a bad loan spell at Schalke, and his young career needs a serious boost if he is ever to get anywhere near the first team of a club like Bayern.
The first step could be at Augsburg, a familiar club where Hojbjerg has played and with which he has a relationship. He has the opportunity within the squad as it stands and would play for a great coach. And a move to the WWK Arena could be just what he needs to get his career back on track.