After a debut Bundesliga season that blew all expectations out of the water, VfL Wolfsburg look to have found a prolific fit for a first-choice striker in Wout Weghorst.
Completing his second hat-trick of the season in an 8-1 drubbing of Augsburg to help Wolfsburg secure a return to the European stage, you could forgive Weghorst for taking the opportunity to soak in the moment. The emotions were etched on his face.
"Sometimes I’m a bit of an emotional guy - that’s just the way I play football," Weghorst told bundesliga.com after the final whistle. The result was yet another milestone in an unorthodox career.
The Dutchman is a rarity in modern football having never come through a youth academy and only playing as high as the ninth tier of Dutch football up until the age of 18. He didn’t sign his first professional contract until two years later, admitting: "I was never the biggest talent, but I never gave up."
A humble giant whose unconventional road has forged a fierce work ethic, Weghorst endeared himself to Wolfsburg fans in a standout debut season that produced 17 goals and seven assists. The cheeky and charming grin that seems to be almost permanently plastered on his face didn’t hurt either.
Watch: Weghorst has a hand in ALL FIVE goals in a 5-2 win
From Roy Makaay to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Bundesliga has a rich history involving prolific Dutchmen. Joining a Wolfsburg outfit improving under Bruno Labbadia, but relegation threatened nevertheless, Weghorst brought with him a record of 45 goals in 86 appearances from his time at AZ Alkmaar.
"I wanted to develop my game," Weghorst said when bundesliga.com asked him to reflect back on his targets from the start of the season. "That’s always my biggest aim, to become a better player physically and mentally.
"I wanted to become an important player and qualify for Europe [grins]. You can see how it worked out. Everything got checked. That’s it. The job is done. We achieved all our goals for this season."
That wasn’t a forgone conclusion for a Wolfsburg side who had to beat Holstein Kiel in last season’s two-legged relegation play-off to even retain their top-flight status. Like Weghorst though, the Wolves exceeded expectations over the course of the campaign to stamp their ticket to next season’s UEFA Europa League.
"Today was so important for all of us," continued Weghorst. "The club has had two difficult years. The fans were always here. The fans in Wolfsburg gave me a lot of confidence from the very beginning.
We worked so hard for it all year. We were strong. We were really good and after we went 2-0 up, they broke. I’m just so lucky, so happy and so empty [laughs]. We’re in Europe next year which is great."
Watch: Weghorst bags a brace as Wolves down Hoffenheim
One goal in his first five appearances stoked initial fears that he may prove more Luuk de Jong (six goals in 36 appearances) than Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (82 goals in 175 appearances). Weghorst’s goalscoring prowess became more apparent as the season wore on though, never going more than four games without a goal.
With his hat-trick against Augsburg adding to the one he scored in a spell-binding individual performance against Fortuna Düsseldorf, Weghorst was the only Bundesliga player to score three times in a single game twice in 2018/19.
The 26-year-old set himself the target of 12 goals in the summer, but by the campaign’s conclusion he had produced the fourth most prolific season in Wolfsburg history. Only the legendary duo of Dzeko (2009/10; 22 & 2008/09; 26) and Grafite (2008/09; 28) can top his 17-goal haul.
Talking to the Wolfsburger Allgemeine, Grafite drew the comparison between Weghorst and his former strike partner.
"Wout is great, I love the way he plays - it reminds me of Edin," said the Brazilian. "I think he can score more next season. He’s not quite at Edin’s level yet, but he’s on the right path to become a top striker. He’s focussed, he’s got technique, he’s got power - I like it."
Watch: Relive Weghorst's first-ever Bundesliga goal
Mario Gomez and Bas Dost both had one prolific season to their name on Wolfsburg’s books. However, with the added burden of European football the club can’t afford for their new star striker to lose his shine like his predecessors inevitably did.
Yet Weghorst’s season doesn’t read like a flash in the pan. Given how he also topped the club’s charts in terms of distance covered, sprints, challenges contested and assists, it wasn’t just Wolfsburg’s goalscoring prayers that he answered.
While Labbadia’s reign is coming to an end, there’s talk of a contract extension for Weghorst. Following his call-up to the Netherlands’ preliminary 28-man squad for the UEFA Nations League finals, he is reaping the rewards of his hard work and perseverance. Nevertheless, the three-time Netherlands international is still hungry for more.
"I became increasingly important for the team, but that wasn’t necessarily the case at the start of the season," acknowledged Weghorst. "I’ve got to fulfil that role for an entire campaign. I can still get better."