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Erling Haaland: What the 21-year-old goal-scoring machine brings to Manchester City

Erling Haaland’s career trajectory has taken him to Norwegian, Austrian and German clubs. Red Bull Salzburg paid €8 million to bring him from Molde and then Borussia Dortmund’s smart business brought the young striker to Germany at just €20 million. The biggest impact came at Borussia Dortmund where he’s scored 85 goals from 88 appearances.

His journey now, subject to agreement, takes him to Manchester City. A massive step up for the 21-year-old striker but not surprising. Born in Leeds, short drive away from Manchester in north England, his father, Alf-Inge, played for City in the Premier League between 2000 and 2003.

For Man City, signing Haaland made plenty of sense. But it wasn’t easy. Real Madrid were keen on pairing him with Kylian Mbappe at the Bernabeu next season, Barcelona sought him as a successor to Lionel Messi, while Bayern Munich again aimed to swoop on their Bundesliga rivals.

Making the competition stiffer was Haaland’s release clause. Valued at €150 million as per Transfer Market, his reported buyout clause of €60 million made him a choice for many in the continent. It will also mean Dortmund won’t be collecting a big cheque for relinquishing his services.

As a kid, Haaland was pictured wearing a City jersey. But that was a different era – for the league and for the club. Now, boosted by huge TV revenue and massive marketing deals, Premier League bosses above the other top five European leagues. As for Manchester City, arrival of Sheikh Mansour’s petrodollars from Abu Dhabi has transformed the club’s fortunes, with Pep Guardiola’s men now on the verge of a fourth Premier League title in five seasons.

What’s missing? European silverware. Licking their wounds a week after being sent out of the Champions League semi-finals, Haaland’s arrival is a step in the right direction. A direction where Manchester City have made clear that European glory, and then global success, is what they’re aiming for. A direction that emphasises they’re able to draw Europe’s prized talent ahead of the traditional biggies.

Haaland fills in a gap that has remained unfulfilled for two seasons. City have played the best part of two years without a recognised number nine. Ever since Sergio Aguero’s multiple injuries and eventual transfer to Barcelona, City haven’t found a suitable substitute. An attempt to land Harry Kane fell short last summer and may have cost City in the Champions League.

Time and again, City were in control against Real Madrid. They had a two goal cushion thrice in the first leg and regained it in the second leg but were undone by a late Rodrygo brace before a Karim Benzema penalty clinched the tie for the 13-time champions.

Agonisingly for Man City, they missed a series of sitters to put the tie to bed. Guardiola would be hopeful Haaland ensures no such repeat. The numbers do solidify his case and Man City’s push to get the Norwegian. He’s scored 23 goals in just 19 Champions League appearances for Salzburg and Dortmund.

Rival managers haven’t shied away from admitting this makes City even tougher to stop. “Certainly I believe it makes Man City — one of, if not the best team in the world — even better,” said Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch, who coached Haaland at Salzburg.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described Haaland as a “beast”.

“He’s a good player but City was never and will never be a team that wins games because of one player,” said Klopp. “He’s a real beast, so unfortunately a really good signing,” he added.

Does Haaland fit Man City’s system?

In Guardiola’s previous systems, he had a number nine for attacking lines. Samuel Eto’o at Barcelona, Robert Lewandowski at Bayern and Aguero in his early years. But things have changed.

Riyad Mahrez is their top scorer with 24 goals in all competitions this season, ahead of Raheem Sterling (16), Kevin De Bruyne (15) and Phil Foden (14). Mahrez, for example, is one to play on the wing and cuts inside to have shots on goals. In other styles, the Algerian laps in on loose balls in and around the box.

Haaland, however, with his big built is a different type of player. He’s labelled as heir to Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. A future Ballon d’Or winner. The new individual rivalry in football alongside Mbappe. His lethal scoring, athletic built and ability to shrug off defenders makes him a valuable add to any team. Even more for a team like City that creates multiple scoring opportunities.

Led by Kevin de Bruyne in midfield who puts chances on a plate, City create more opportunities than other Premier League teams. Even without an out and out striker, the Citizens have scored a league-high 89 goals and with three games to go, could breach the 100 goal barrier once again.

The challenge remains how Haaland can cope with tougher defences of England’s football clubs. Against City, many opposition managers opt to ‘park the bus’ which negates the pace and strength that Haaland prefers to flourish in. In that respect, it is similar to the challenge that Romelu Lukaku has faced at Chelsea. The Belgian striker has not had the same impact he had for two seasons at Inter Milan.

Another aspect that might not come naturally to Haaland at City will be in the pressing game. In the early years, Aguero found it tough to adapt to Guardiola’s requirement to do more of the dirty work. Pep needs his players to hurry opposition defenders, close passing lines and track back. While Haaland has done it in his time at Dortmund, but not to the extent that teams in England do.

 

Haaland’s injury record and suspect recent goal drought would come as a reason for worry. “Muscular problems” and hip concern has seen him miss 16 games this season for Dortmund. Similar problems kept him out for club and country in the past.

That could be the reason behind his recent goalscoring drought. Earlier, his longest scoreless run for Dortmund was two games. Now, he’s failed to score in seven of his last nine Bundesliga appearances, even if 21 goals in 23 games is a jaw-dropping good number.

The only finger many have raised against Guardiola and player management is in his integration of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Catalan manager failed to bring together Zlatan into his great Barcelona team. It didn’t help that Messi, who preferred to play centrally, was a key factor in that relationship not working out.

But Haaland, at 21, is a different being. A signing that could urge Guardiola to stay beyond the one year left on his contract. But before that, a Champions League title is pivotal to that aspiration. And contrary to what the City owners say, European glory is bigger than domestic success for this club. Just what Haaland is there for.

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