October 11, 2022
Erling Haaland, Man City, Pep Guardiola in many ways a perfect match.  Now it’s up to them

It wasn’t quite LeBron James and “The Decision.” After all, Erling Braut Haaland wasn’t a free agent, it wasn’t televised, there was no ‘hometown betrayal’ story and there were plenty of whispers that an announcement was imminent. for various suitors had abandoned the race. But it’s not far.

Haaland didn’t say – or at least didn’t say it yet on Tuesday night – that “I’m going to bring my talents to the Etihad and join Manchester City. … I feel like it’s going to give me the best opportunity to win and win for many years.” But he and those around him were probably thinking about it.

He’s a 21-year-old man-child and alongside Kylian Mbappe, he’s one of the two hottest properties in the world game. Confirmation came on Tuesday that he was linking up with Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, one of the best (and best-resourced) clubs of recent seasons, and big favorites to win their fourth Premier League title in five years.

What unites the player and the club, besides being close to the gold standard in what they do, is planning.

– Man City agree deal to sign Haaland from Dortmund
– The numbers that made Haaland the most wanted striker
– Dortmund complete the signing of Adeyemi, replacing Haaland

After playing second fiddle to Crosstown rivals Manchester United for most of their history, and winning two Premier League titles in the early years under Emirati ownership with a scattered and big spending approach, they have moved on. committed to a long-term project and focused on Guardiola, the architect of two Champions League crowns while at Barcelona and the game’s most coveted manager at the time, as a manager to take them further.

Guardiola was at Bayern at the time, but they rolled out the red carpet for him. They didn’t hide their desire to learn from the Barcelona model, going as far as organizing their youth academies along the same lines and getting former Barcelona executives such as Ferran Soriano (now the club’s general manager) and Txiki Begiristain (city sports director). Everything was ready for the day he was ready to commit and when he finally did, in the summer of 2016, he arrived in more familiar surroundings than he otherwise might have been.

Haaland’s career has also been meticulously planned. This is partly down to his father, Alfie, a former Norway international who spent three seasons at City from 2000 to 2003. Being the son of an ex-professional means having access to networks and know-how beyond of the average Joe, and Haaland took full advantage of it. advantage.

He started out at his local club Bryne and at 16, having visited and been scouted by half of Europe’s biggest teams, he stayed in his home country, opting for Molde. Eighteen months later, just after turning 18, he joined FC Salzburg in Austria, turning down more lucrative opportunities at bigger clubs. Why Salzburg? Because they were part of the Red Bull group of clubs and were known not only for giving youngsters game time, but also for playing modern, fast and pressing football. They were the ideal “finishing school” and equally important, they agreed to put a relatively low release clause (€20m/$21m) in his contract. If young Erling excelled beyond that fee, he wanted to be sure he could move on.

that is exactly what happened. He scored 28 goals in 22 games in the first half of the 2019-20 season and in January he took another step up the food chain. With a fee of 20 million euros representing less than a third of his market valuation at the time, he could pretty much choose his destination, and he chose Borussia Dortmund: a bigger club and a bigger challenge. , but the same commitment to young people. And again, they agreed to a release clause – €60m, as it turned out – which was well below what he would otherwise get on the open market.

So even if Haaland wasn’t technically a free agent, having such a low release clause relative to your potential open market transfer fee (which is comfortably in the €180m range) was like almost the same. He – along with his father and his late agent, Mino Raiola – were in charge. They could name their price and, most importantly, their destination.

This meticulous planning doesn’t just extend to her father and agent who are adept at plotting her path. By all accounts, Haaland is a clean, hard-working kid with a softer, new-age side (yoga and meditation). He avoids controversy, respects hierarchy and, despite not being an outspoken media presence, still manages to rack up 15 million Instagram followers with posts like these back home in Norway. He’s lived and breathed the game at the highest level since he was a child, and it shows.

On the surface, it’s a perfect match. Manchester City haven’t had a dominant central striker since 2018, before injuries accelerated Sergio Aguero’s decline. They still score a lot of goals, but mostly without a specialized centre-forward. Last summer they pursued England striker Harry Kane but were put off by Tottenham’s $160million valuation. Haaland, who is seven years younger than Kane and arguably already on his level, is a bargain.

Nor is it a naive young superstar with stars (and money signs) in his eyes. Haaland and his advisers know exactly what they are getting into with City. They know the way Guardiola wants his teams to play, the way he values ​​the extra pass, the way he values ​​work rate with quality, the way the individual is subordinate to the collective.

As tempting as it might be to draw comparisons with the big failed experiment of 2009 – the last time Guardiola bet big on an oversized Scandinavian centre-forward, by the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – they are out of place. Guardiola, then at Barcelona, ​​had just won his first Champions League and the club acquired the imposing Sweden international for a fee of $55m plus the rights of Samuel Eto’o, a total package worth over of $80 million. It didn’t work out as Ibrahimovic clashed early and often with Guardiola, leaving after just one season. This has led some, most recently Patrice Evra, to suggest that Guardiola cannot handle oversized, in-your-face personalities and that he, not any individual player, should be the star.

This is a very erroneous reading of the situation, yesterday and today. First of all, Ibrahimovic is outsized, outspoken and larger than life to a degree that Haaland will ever be. Second, he was 27 and fully trained as a professional at the time, while Haaland is still developing (which is scary, given how good he already is). Moreover, Guardiola today is not the Guardiola of 2009 either. He too grew up, had life experiences and worked successfully with many of Bayern Munich’s great personalities (Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer, for cite just two).

On the pitch, the fit feels natural. Haaland is a great central striker, but he’s also fast and a great ball passer. He has a vision and a work rate, two qualities that Guardiola seems to value above all else. On the personality side, he is hungry, probably more than Ibrahimovic (who had already won league titles at three different clubs). City’s closet is full of trophies; Haaland only contains the 2020-21 German Cup and the league title he won in his first six months at Salzburg, when he was 18 and made just two league appearances. Hunger and motivation will not be a problem.

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In the end, City can celebrate: they won the Haaland contest. Critics will say that Real Madrid are putting their chips in Mbappe’s basket when it comes to his next big signing, that Barcelona are close to insolvency (and Juventus are only in a slightly better boat), that Chelsea are under government sanctions, that Liverpool are busy trying to extend their own strikers (Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah) rather than thinking about signing new ones, that Bayern Munich have their own strict salary structure… but let them talk .

The thing is, everyone wanted Haaland and City got him. The fact that he chose them as much as they chose him (if not more) bodes very well.

The two go there with their eyes wide open. Now the rest is up to Pep and Erling.


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