Why Guardiola Really Wanted to Sign Erling Haaland

Pep Guardiola won’t admit it, but there’s something he’s wanted since arriving at Manchester City in the summer of 2016. Something he hasn’t, until now, managed to achieve. For all of City’s domination of English football under the Spaniard, he has never signed an elite striker; consistently batting away the question whenever asked.

When Sergio Agüero, the club’s all time top goalscorer, left last summer, Guardiola was in tears as he paid tribute. “We cannot replace him,” he told Sky Sports, his words movingly genuine. Although there were initial teething problems between the pair, Agüero became a key player under Guardiola’s management, but knowing he was ageing and injury prone, the coach shifted the focus away from the Argentine. Realising that he may not immediately sign a replacement, there followed a fruitless pursuit of England captain Harry Kane last year and the subsequent emergence of a system without a main striker. Finally, though, City and Guardiola have found their man.

That man is the one everybody wants: Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland.

The 21-year-old is arguably the most feared marksman on the planet. So he could hardly be more perfect for a club who are looking to end the season as both English and European champions.

Since becoming a teenage Champions League hat-trick scorer in 2019 with Red Bull Salzburg, his rise has captured Europe’s imagination. Moving to Dortmund was seen as an ideal stepping stone, but it’s worked out even better than many expected.

“I think when you look at Haaland’s performances for RB Salzburg in the Champions League, you always knew he was going to make it at the very top,” Dan Pinder, Editor-in-Chief of Get German Football News, told Compare.Bet. 

“He has the most goals and assists per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this season, which shows just how important he is to Dortmund, how clinical he is and how huge his presence is in the final third.”

“He was brought on for his debut vs Augsburg after 56 minutes and scored his first three minutes later, and then completed a 20 minute hat-trick on his debut. 

“You’d think for such a physical presence he’d be better in the air because at one point only 2 of his 57 goals were headers, but he’s certainly improved on this. (Dortmund boss), Marco Rose, said earlier this year that Haaland’s improved in comparison to last season on his timing, getting into positions and making those correct decisions in the final third.”

Having cost Dortmund £17.5m, Haaland was something of a bargain. Manchester United were keen, but Germany appeared the right destination. Because of his incredible form, his current price tag seems extremely low. So has his development taken everyone, including Dortmund and even himself, by surprise?

“It’s difficult to say. When Haaland was signed, Covid-19 wasn’t even a thing,” Pinder points out. “So to sign him for around £20m was a price for his goal return. £75m certainly feels cheap considering just how important of a player he is to Dortmund, but at the same time, an overall package to sign Haaland will cost around £350m with the transfer fee, 5-year contract, commission his father [former City player Alf-Inge], so it’s a massive investment for any club, especially in these testing times and at £75m, I think BVB would be happy enough with that.

“One thing that Dortmund do well is being resilient in the transfer market. It was the same as the [Jadon] Sancho situation. If you want him, then this is the figure that you have to pay and no less. Dortmund ideally want a decision as soon as  so they can start their planning for next season.

“I think it’s always exciting when you’re the main striker at Borussia Dortmund. They’ve had Robert Lewandowski, then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang & Paco Alcacer (who was better than people suggest) and now you have Haaland. 

“He was always going to be battling it out with Lewandowski as the Bundesliga’s top scorer and had he stayed fit, he could well have won it. Having a personality such as Haaland in the Bundesliga is so important.”

But things may not be quite so straightforward when Haaland gets to the Etihad Stadium. Guardiola’s best work comes with a certain type of striker, often those who are nimble and with a low centre of gravity; in other words, the opposite to Haaland. Pinder questions whether there could have been more ideal destinations for the Norwegian.

“It’s interesting to say as he doesn’t seem to be that City type of player, of recent forwards there he’s probably most likened to [Edin] Dzeko. Of course if he has players like [Phil] Foden, [Bernardo] Silva and [Riyad] Mahrez around him, then chances will certainly be put on a plate for Haaland. But I’d be more inclined to say he’s better suited to Real Madrid. 

“His physicality and most certainly his pace are his strengths, you don’t believe that he’s quick but he covers so much ground in a short time. If you look at his numbers, you also see his conversion rate is high and he’s so clinical in the area. But he’s prone to an injury which certainly hasn’t aided Dortmund in their title fight. Had he stayed last year and this, they could well have challenged Bayern Munich, who just won their 10th successive title.”

Despite the suitability doubts, it does feel like the move that fits all parties. Haaland gets the move he is so patently ready for, while City finally get their Agüero replacement.

For Dortmund, meanwhile, a new way forward is being found and it’s from where they found Haaland. Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi is on his way, but Pinder says it is a stretch to call him a direct replacement.

“Although they’ve almost agreed a deal to sign Adeyemi, he’s not actually seen as a successor to Haaland, instead more of a successor to Sancho – someone that can play around the No. 9. 

As an out and out replacement for Haaland, Dortmund have this week been linked with Adam Hlozek, Patrik Schick and Sasa Kalajdzic but at the minute it seems like Hugo Ekitike would be the likelier option.”

The now confirmed move of Erling Haaland into the Premier League, and more specifically to its most dominant team, makes the prospects of next season something to look forward to.

The people behind this page

Compare.bet's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check the content on this page:

Harry is a football writer and author with bylines at Eurosport, BBC Sport, The Mirror and FourFourTwo. He is also the author of Black and White Knight - How Sir Bobby Robson Made Newcastle United Again. Harry wrote a feature on Alan Shearer's induction to the Premier League Hall of Fame for Compare.bet news, where he spoke to Shearer's ex-teammates Les Ferdinand and Warren Barton about the former Newcastle captain's legendary career.

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