Haaland — the predatory sharpshooter on every European superclub’s wish-list
just 21, Erling Haaland already looks like a complete centre-forward. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s deadly. The muscular 6’4” Norwegian can bully defenders one-on-one and just as easily explode past them with a burst of pace — his physical gifts, including his agility, are reminiscent of a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he is more prolific in front of goal than the legendary Swede was at his age.
Haaland is the youngest player to reach the milestone of 20 Champions League goals. He has already scored an incredible 129 goals in 159 top-flight club appearances across Norway, Austria and Germany — the last 80 goals have come in just 82 appearances for Borussia Dortmund over three seasons, a scoring rate that places him among the elite. His influence at such a young age is as remarkable as it is obvious: when he was sidelined with a hip problem last November, Dortmund failed to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League. The club also exited the Europa League last month when he was again out with a leg injury. “Haaland is the complete package, that has to be said. We need him,” said Dortmund captain Marco Reus.
Consider his sheer volume of goals, the fact that he is yet to hit his peak and has already shown he can cope with the pressures of leading the line at a championship-chasing side, and it’s clear why Europe’s superclubs are tripping over themselves trying to court him. A move away from Ruhr valley is almost certain and an announcement possible in the coming weeks. Haaland is contracted to Dortmund until 2024, but German daily Bild has claimed that he could leave for €75 million at the end of this season if he triggers an exit clause in the contract before April 30.
So, which of Europe’s heavy-hitters are in the fray? Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona are reportedly among the frontrunners. Bayern is also in the picture. Reports that the club is yet to offer Robert Lewandowski, 33, a new contract have been interpreted by some as a sign that the German powerhouse is looking to future-proof its fortunes with a new goal machine. What’s more, Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn recently met player agent Mino Raiola, who represents Haaland, and refused to disclose what was discussed, which, unsurprisingly, fanned the Haaland-to-Bayern rumours. But Haaland’s links to the other three superclubs have been reported more persistently.
City has reportedly approached Raiola with the best offer of all the clubs interested. Dortmund advisor Matthias Sammer, who plays a key role in the club’s hierarchy, has spoken openly about the possibility of Haaland moving to City. While Sammer was blunt about reports that City is ready to pay Haaland almost €600,000 per week — “I had whiplash when I saw the figures, I can’t even count that far” — the 54-year-old former player and coach did say that Haaland would thrive under manager Pep Guardiola. “They will both benefit from each other, because Pep of course has certain ideas, which I was allowed to experience for three years,” said Sammer, who was sports director at Bayern when Guardiola was head coach from 2013-16.
With Haaland, Spanish giants and bitter rivals Real and Barcelona have one more ‘trophy (signing)’ to contest. Barcelona’s 4-0 rout at the Bernabeu Clasico last weekend was spun by various sections of the Spanish media as the best thing that could happen for each club! Madrid-based outlets claimed that the defeat would hurt Real psychologically and an increasingly dangerous Barca might stiffen the resolve of president Florentino Perez in the summer. Barcelona-based outlets, on the other hand, were of the opinion that the performance could turn Haaland’s head, for Xavi’s side has the more exciting ‘project’: prodigious, young talent and an iconic, tactically savvy manager aiming to return Barcelona to the top of club football.
Both superclubs face challenges, however. Real would reportedly prefer to sign Haaland in 2023 since it is going all out to secure Kylian Mbappe this year — signing two ‘galacticos’ in one summer is great for PR (and the club’s future), but incredibly tough to balance and get over the line. With current striker Karim Benzema proving he is central to Madrid’s play, Haaland may not be a guaranteed starter — something the other interested clubs can promise him. And while Real remains a dream destination, offering world-beating talent the stage to strut their stuff and win big trophies, a rotating cast of managers and the lack of a clear playing identity can make its attractions pale slightly in comparison with other superclubs which offer a ‘football project’
Barcelona’s challenges are more severe. Club president Joan Laporta insisted in January that the Blaugrana are “back as big players” in the transfer market, but big-money signings will depend on a huge improvement in their financial situation. Barcelona is the only football club in Spain’s top division whose squad spending limit is less than zero (negative €144 million!). When asked about Barcelona’s hopes of signing Haaland, LaLiga’s director general Javier Gomez said the club will have to “reduce costs or bring in more income, there’s no other way”. Barcelona has since announced a sponsorship deal with Spotify, in which the club could earn up to €300 million over four years, but whether this is sufficient or whether it can find other means remains to be seen.
Does Haaland have a preference? If he does, it has not been made public. Sky’s Norwegian pundit Jan-Aage Fjoertoft, who is close to the Haaland family, said it’s a two-horse race between City and Madrid, but his recent endorsement on social media of Barcelona’s ‘project’ and Xavi’s influence has been interpreted by some media outlets as a signal that the Blaugrana are still in the running.
While the upside of signing Haaland is obvious, the deal is not without risks. For one, it will prove extremely costly, despite a relatively reasonable transfer fee (€75 million) — big money, but significantly lower than €222 million (Neymar to PSG), €180 million (Mbappe to PSG) or €145 million (Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona). Indeed, even Harry Maguire cost Manchester United more (€87 million). But the transfer fee is only a part of the story. According to the Guardian, Haaland’s move will cost €360million in total, including wages, sale fee and an estimated €36 million cut for Raiola.
Then there is the risk that his preferred style of play won’t fit the club he goes to. “I have doubts as to whether he [Xavi] needs a striker like him,” Barcelona legend Michael Laudrup told Catalonian radio station RAC1. “I don’t argue with Haaland as a goalscorer. He’s incredible. The only thing is that he is a very physical player who needs a little space. He is not the ideal player [for Barcelona], he does not participate with the ball and in combinations in narrow spaces. He has to play in a team that plays and then gives him balls. He will always score goals in any team but I have doubts about how he plays compared to how he plays with Barca.” City’s style is broadly similar to Barcelona’s, so these words could apply to the Manchester club as well. The counter-argument, of course, is that he can develop some of these traits and the team can adapt slightly to him.
The final downside is Haaland’s injury history. This season, he has been out of action for almost 100 days with injuries. In the two previous seasons, his injury-enforced absences have spanned 40 days each. He has had muscular issues, hip flexor and knee problems, and a ligament injury. It is cause for some concern and the interested clubs will no doubt have considered this.
But with players of Haaland’s ability and potential, there are certain costs worth bearing and certain risks worth taking.