Erling Haaland on a mission to claim football's biggest prizes at Manchester City

Striker is following in the footsteps of his father Alfie, but with his sights set on the Ballon d'Or and Champions League

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Alf Inge Haaland, affectionately known as Alfie, played his last Premier League match for Manchester City on a late April afternoon 21 years ago. City were on their way to relegation and although Alfie contributed to a victory that day against West Ham, the moment of the drop to the second tier was only delayed.

The combative Norwegian midfielder was unavailable for the next matchday because of injury. He watched from distance as City’s descent was confirmed.

The Alfie Haaland injury would later become one of modern English football’s most studied wounds. A week before his last appearance in light blue in the top division, he had been on the end of a brutal challenge from Manchester United’s Roy Keane in a drawn derby.

Keane later admitted he intended to hurt his fellow midfielder and had been bearing an old grudge from years previously against Haaland. Keane was sent off. Haaland underwent surgery for a knee problem that summer.

Alfie was in hospital for another reason the previous July, celebrating the birth of a son, Erling Braut, who on Tuesday closed a circle in the story of a gifted football family by confirming that he will spend the next five years wearing a Manchester City jersey.

It is a hugely exciting transfer. If Haaland junior scores league goals at the rate he has done for Borussia Dortmund, where City have triggered his €60m buyout clause, he could well be the leading goalscorer season after season in the Premier League. He should continue to set records in the Champions League, the competition where, last year, his precocious performances for Dortmund and RB Salzburg made him the youngest footballer to reach 20 goals.

He will have a reasonable expectation of being in the first City squad to win a European Cup, too.

The family connection makes a nice storyline, but the real rationale for the son of Alfie to join City is for the player to pursue his ambition to claim the sport’s biggest prizes, to set some individual records on the way, and to give himself the platform to contest the Ballon d’Or.

It would be hard to bet against his achieving all those things, or not believe that, presented with the possibility of joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich if he had pushed to stay in Germany, Haaland has chosen the best possible move.

For a start, there is a vacancy for a world-class centre-forward at City, in a way it would be hard to argue there is an obvious gap in any of the club’s midfield positions. Haaland’s City career will begin 12 months after Sergio Aguero’s long stay at the Etihad came to an end, and the summer after a determined effort to sign Harry Kane was thwarted by Tottenham Hotspur. A world-class centre-forward has been on the shopping list for a while.

Yet one of the many traits that has set Guardiola’s City apart is the generally high ratio of goals while playing without an orthodox centre-forward.

City have been without a recognised centre-forward since Sergio Aguero left the club. Getty

Without diminishing the importance of Gabriel Jesus, who has been used in different roles across the front three, Haaland will arrive with the intention, and the invitation from Guardiola, to command the No 9 role. He is built like a de luxe target man, a muscular 1.94m tall, but will not restrict his impact to the opposition penalty area. He reads play with a maturity beyond his years, has a sure eye for a pass, sharp pace and a blistering shot from long range.

Nor will the confident Haaland be concerned at being shown the list of accomplished central strikers who have not always seen eye-to-eye with Guardiola.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic famously fell out with the Catalan when he became Barcelona’s then record signing in 2009. Ibrahimovic left after a season, having joined Barca as a replacement, effectively, for Samuel Eto’o.

Guardiola had told Eto’o he should seek a transfer when Guardiola first joined Barcelona as head coach in 2008. Eto’o stubbornly stayed, continued to score goals, but detected that with Lionel Messi, primarily a winger, being primed for a ‘false nine’ role - with huge, lasting success - Eto’o’s strengths at centre-forward would be better used elsewhere.

At Bayern Munich, Mario Mandzukic, the Croatian centre-forward, would complain about Guardiola undervaluing his strengths. Mandzukic was replaced by Robert Lewandowski after a year of Guardiola’s Bayern reign. Lewandowski certainly thrived and grew as a player under Guardiola. Haaland is convinced he will, too.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 4:31 AM
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