Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City are still licking their wounds from another painful Champions League exit, but by winning the race to sign Erling Haaland they have established themselves as a go-to destination for Europe’s top talent.
The 21-year-old goalscoring phenomenon had his choice of the continent’s top clubs thanks to a reported buyout clause of 60 million euros (£51 million, $63 million) that will see him leave Borussia Dortmund well below his market value.
Real Madrid wanted to pair the Norwegian 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.
Haaland, however, will instead line up in City blue next season, just as his father Alf-Inge did between 2000-2003 during a very different era for the club.
The arrival of petrodollars from Abu Dhabi has long since transformed City’s fortunes, with Pep Guardiola’s men now on the brink of a fourth Premier League title in five seasons.
But Haaland is the man City need to fill a void if they are to reach the next level — a superstar striker.
City have played the best part of two seasons without a recognised number nine.
An attempt to land Harry Kane as Sergio Aguero’s successor fell short last summer and it may have cost City another shot at Champions League glory.
Despite beating Real Madrid 4-2 in the first leg of their semi-final, Guardiola’s men missed a series of sitters to put the tie to bed.
That came back to haunt them last week as Real miraculously hauled themselves off the floor to score twice in the final seconds of the second leg and set up a final against Liverpool, City’s nearest challengers for the Premier League trophy.
Haaland, however has scored 23 goals in just 19 Champions League appearances for Salzburg and Dortmund.
– City future-proofing –
What remains to be seen is how well he can be embedded into Guardiola’s system.
League titles won with Samuel Eto’o at Barcelona, Robert Lewandowski in his time at Bayern Munich and Aguero in his early years at City dispells the notion Guardiola’s football cannot accommodate a number nine.
But the recent story of City’s success under the Catalan coach has been one of collective brilliance.
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).
Not all superstar signings have gone as planned for Guardiola in the past.
Haaland’s arrival has sparked comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ill-fated season at Barcelona in 2009/10.
And Jack Grealish, despite costing City £100 million to make him the most expensive player in English football history, has spent much of this season on the bench.
But by landing one of Europe’s hottest properties, City are also looking to a future beyond Guardiola, whose current contract runs out in 2023.
Now they will have at least one season together to try to satisfy City’s desperate desire for a first Champions League title.
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