How Haaland consultants worked on the system on the way to Man City

A few days before last summer’s transfer window drew to a close, a handful of older Manchester City executives gathered in a conference room on the club’s vast campus to review what went well and what went wrong in the previous pair. of months.

Although Premier League champion City managed to persuade Aston Villa to give up Jack Grealish, the mischievous playmaker who emerged as England’s rising star during the European Championship, making him the most expensive player in English history. in the process, he had failed to land his other priority goal, Tottenham striker Harry Kane.

What had always been a complex and arduous chase had instead resulted in a quarrel over who was to blame. Kane, at one point, had refused to train with Tottenham, the club he supported as a child, in hopes of forcing the Spurs’ hand, but his act of risk failed. Tottenham said City have not submitted an offer that could serve as a starting point for negotiation.

That afternoon, City executives pondered their strategy, pondered why a deal had not materialized and considered how they would proceed. As the meeting drew to a close and his colleagues were about to leave, Khaaldoon al-Mubarak, the club’s president, made one final remark. It was just two words, an ambition and an education. “Erling Haaland,” he said.

A little over nine months later, that goal was achieved. Tuesday afternoon, City confirmed had reached an “agreement in principle” with current Haaland club, the German side of Borussia Dortmund, to acquire the striker, one of the two most coveted forwards in world football this summer, scoring 85 goals in 88 games with Dortmund, and Considered together with Kylian Mbappé as one of the flagship twins of the first generation of post-Messi and post-Ronaldo football.

In reality, of course, it didn’t take nine months to reach an agreement of sorts with Dortmund. Haaland’s contract contained a redemption clause, somewhere in the region of $ 75 million, which Dortmund did not give a say in where they could play next season. All City, everyone else, had to do something to inform Dortmund of the intention to pay him. Haaland’s employer was in no position to bargain.

Far more convoluted was the process of convincing Haaland that City was the correct next step in his meticulously planned career. Haaland, 21, may have an emotional connection with the club: his father, Alfie, played for City at the turn of the century and, although his son does not remember his time in Manchester, he told the Times in 2019 that he had a little love for all his former teams.

But, as City would have known, there was little room for romance in Erling Haaland’s relentless rise. Each stage of his journey has been charted with surgical, perhaps cynical precision, by his sherpa twins: his longtime rep, Mino Raiola, the controversial Dutch-Italian agent who died last month; and his father.

When Haaland left his hometown team, Bryne, as a teenager, refused the overtures of the English and German teams that chased him in favor of the Austrian Red Bull Salzburg, home of both. a talented reliable production line for the major European leagues and the prospect of Champions League matches. When he left Salzburg a year later, he wasn’t for England but for Dortmund, a club with a track record to develop and sell players and a willingness to establish a reasonable purchase clause.

This meant, of course, that not only was Haaland recession proof – $ 75 million is, by modern standards, good enough value for a player who appears to have been designed and engineered to score as many goals as possible – but that, when The Inevitable the auction started, the bar would not be who could pay Dortmund the most, but who could put together the most attractive package for the player and his advisers.

To ensure the best possible result, Raiola and Alfie Haaland traveled to European superclubs, fueling interest and stoking the flames. There have been visits to Real Madrid and Barcelona. There were lashes fluttering in the vague direction of Chelsea and Manchester United. There was also, for a while, a flirtation with Bayern Munich.

That, of course, was their job. That’s exactly what Raiola, in particular, was paid for. It did so with surprising effectiveness: not just because current estimates suggest the deal, in total, will be worth somewhere north of $ 200 million, once Haaland’s salary and various agent fees are taken into account. , but because in doing so they may have invented a whole new paradigm for how agents shape their players’ careers.

Folk wisdom in football has always had the idea that players should – to be blunt – always get the money, the big break, as soon as possible. After all, it only takes one injury to blow up the finest plans; the passion of one summer can be an afterthought for the next. Clubs are fickle and everything has an expiration date.

Raiola overturned that for Haaland, preferring instead a delayed gratification policy. He didn’t chase the mouth-watering transfer fee, as he did, perhaps, for another of his clients, Paul Pogba – but rather he built his client’s appeal a little slower, gradually making sure he was able not only to make the leap to one of Europe’s elite teams, but to do so in a way that favored the player (and its representatives) rather than the club that happened to own his contract at that point.

The city’s offer is the reward. It’s not a move without his warnings – manager Pep Guardiola has worked with some of the best forwards of the modern era, but not always with success. He spent six years painstakingly fine-tuning his system of him at City, only to have to completely readjust it to fit Haaland. Sometimes, though, football is a simple game at first. A player who scores many goals by joining a team that creates many chances should really only have one result.

Whether it’s the ultimate reward, however, is a different matter. Around the same time City were preparing their announcement, Mbappé was busy be pictured having lunch in Madrid. His contract with Paris St.-Germain expires in a few weeks and, despite an incredibly wide stay offer, he looks set to move to Real Madrid this summer. Funding that deal will most likely dwarf what the City has offered Haaland.

This is the logical next step in the model pioneered by Raiola and the Haaland family. It is a reflection of the financial reality of football. There is no price at which City, or PSG, feel obliged to sell a player. There is only one option left: to close a contract and enter the free market.

This is the challenge that awaits City, somewhere along the line. He won, this time around, by convincing Haaland – his first true plug-and-play superstar, someone who will be considered but never referred to as a franchise player – that was his best next step. The question, for a player whose career has been planned so coldly, so ruthlessly, is whether it’s even the last.