Transparency in football is still opaque. The release clause for Erling Haaland was lower than the €75million Borussia Dortmund had briefed and Manchester City suggested the overall cost, including commission and a signing-on fee, was £85.6 million.
Dortmund previously had their pants pulled down by Raiola. Haaland’s potential was renowned when he signed from Red Bull Salzburg for €20m in late December 2019. He had pillaged eight goals in six Champions League group games and Manchester United had attempted to sign him. The release clause was a knockdown and Haaland then emerged to poach a 23-minute hat-trick on his debut.
Haaland rejected United but the club’s version of events was they withdrew from the move as they refused to agree to a release clause and percentage of future sales. Raiola also wanted to secure a share from future sales of the Norwegian striker.
United sources described the terms as ‘bad for the industry’, a favoured get-out dating back to the infamous summer window of 2018. United were scrambling around for a centre-back and Yerry Mina was being hawked around the continent after a couple of goals at the World Cup. Ed Woodward was appalled by the commission Mina’s representative was demanding and hoped Everton would pass on the Colombian for the sake of the industry.
Raiola pocketed €41m in commission from Paul Pogba’s world-record transfer to United in 2016 but United had suddenly taken a dim view of ‘super agents’ and were unprepared to put themselves in a position where Raiola could effectively control Haaland’s sell-on.
Sources close to the Haaland family always expected him to move to Germany as they felt it was a progressive move for his career. Jude Bellingham, who joined Dortmund two years ago, was of the same opinion after meeting Woodward and Matt Judge at Carrington in March 2020.
Whatever the overall cost of Haaland, it is still a coup. The 21-year-old is a generational talent and immediately strengthens a team that reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League and is three games away from a fourth Premier League title in five years.
A graphic tweeted of City’s possible XI next season makes for stark reading if you are Erik ten Hag: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva, Foden, Mahrez, Haaland.
Sources say City are also aiming to recruit a left-back and a defensive midfielder. Coaching Haaland in his early 20s is another incentive for Pep Guardiola to extend his contract beyond 2023.
There would be something wrong if United were not smarting from the Haaland deal. It was obvious in the summer when United were gearing up for an intended championship challenge, Haaland would end up in Manchester or Madrid. Yesteryear, it would only be one club in Manchester.
United’s appeal to early-mid 20-something footballers is diminishing. Haaland has an emotional attachment to City through his father but was 12 the last time visitors to the Old Trafford museum could have a picture with the Premier League trophy. United are a tougher sell than City, especially after their worst season in living memory.
Coaching, structure and players trump history, heritage and romance. City could be champions of England for the fifth time in the last nine seasons next week and have the coach of the century and world-class players in every position. Haaland could be the final piece as they strive for the utopia of Champions League glory.
Alan Shearer got away from United twice and they could rue Haaland as much. Even after he chose Dortmund, there was mutual agreement across the United board that Haaland was their preferred striker target for this year. After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked, Ralf Rangnick endorsed a pursuit, familiar with Haaland’s skillset from his time at Salzburg when Rangnick was the sporting director of the Red Bull group.
Yet it was apparent six months ago United were out of the running for Haaland. Despite his Leeds birthplace, City affinity and antagonistic late agent, United still coveted him. Only they have fallen so far so steeply Haaland is now merely their yardstick for summer targets.
United are fixated on a different kind of saving.