History not on Haaland’s side in Man City signing
On the face of it, Erling Haaland’s imminent arrival at Manchester City is a scary prospect for the rest of European football.
Even before Sergio Aguero’s exit, much was made about Pep Guardiola’s striker-less formation.
During the Argentine great’s final season at the Etihad Stadium, he was only afforded 20 appearances across all competitions, just seven of them Premier League starts, so it is nothing new.
Where the formation was hailed as City stormed to a League title behind closed doors, the system has been slightly more criticised this time around, as the world opened back up again.
City, of course, could yet win a fourth Premier League in five years, but the number of chances they missed over two legs against Real Madrid has naturally seen calls for a new striker grow.
So then, signing one of Europe’s most clinical frontmen would appear to be the perfect next move. A team packed to the rafters with creative talent, Haaland’s machine-like ability to finish chances looks the perfect foil for a team drilled in robotic control.
Naturally, it’s the type of early summer move to send shockwaves around European football. A power move only a select few clubs can make.
Still, these ‘final pieces of the puzzle’ signings do not always work.
Romelu Lukaku was heralded as such upon his return to Chelsea and that deal could not have gone much worse. Fernando Torres and Andriy Shevchenko are further examples, albeit their signings looked more like vanity projects from a certain Roman Abramovich.
Elsewhere, Philippe Coutinho moving to Barcelona looked like the most natural of the recent big-money transfers as Andres Iniesta moved on and that has proved an utter disaster.
Guardiola himself has precedence in this kind of thing.
Swapping Samuel Eto’o and a lorry load of cash for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the summer of 2009 has to be one of the worst decisions in modern football history. The towering Swede looked ideal for Guardiola’s Barcelona team, mixing his physical style with the kind of close control to thrive at the Camp Nou, yet fell out with the Catalan in spectacular fashion.
It’s hard to separate City’s success from both their money itself and the nature of it but one of the reasons they deserve so much respect is how they develop talent. Yes, paying £50m per full-back or £100m on a substitute in Jack Grealish is unfeasible for most other teams, but City rarely buy the finished product.
Nor do they tend to win hotly-contested transfer battles.
Alexis Sanchez, Fred, Dani Alves and Frenkie De Jong have all gone elsewhere even in the Guardiola era, with the Spaniard then having to work with younger players or find internal solutions, such as moving either Fabian Delph or Oleksandr Zinchenko from midfield to left-back.
At 21, Haaland obviously has room for improvement, although it’s just not the type of signing Guardiola tends to make. The Norway star is almost too dominant a force, even at this early stage of his career.
This is uncharted territory for City.
The final piece of the puzzle isn’t always needed. Guardiola has created a masterpiece without it, potentially winning two Premier League titles without it.
Were it not for his strange decision to drop Rodri for the Champions League final in Lisbon, or a stirring Real Madrid comeback many teams across the continent have fallen victim to, the City boss could easily have lifted the biggest trophy in the game too.
That’s not to say Haaland won’t impress at City, it’s just that history is against this type of signing when it comes to Guardiola teams.