It all looked set to be one of the summer’s long-running transfer sagas, but Manchester City’s announcement on Tuesday that Erling Haaland will join the club this summer means the focus is already on what impact his arrival will have.
In so many senses this feels like such a significant signing - not just for how it will affect City, but because of how it alters the perception of the Premier League and the battle at the division’s summit.
In Haaland, Pep Guardiola has lured one of the hottest prospects in world football to the Etihad. This is someone who, at 21, is already viewed as among the planet’s best talents, one that should only continue developing over the coming years.
It’s no exaggeration to say Haaland’s move could be an era-defining transfer, and that City beat Europe’s elite to the signing could have far-reaching implications…
Man City’s status
Firstly, this is a transfer that means so much to City and their desire to establish themselves in the very top tier of the footballing hierarchy. This is a club determined to tell the world they’re among the elite, so much so they’ve become almost obsessed in their pursuit of reordering the status quo.
The ‘Welcome to Manchester’ sign, the unveiling of statues to recent legends and even parting with £100m for a player who currently can’t hold down a place in the first team, all smacks of a club who want to demonstrate just how relevant they are on the global stage.
It’s why the recurring Champions League exits have felt so significant in recent years, despite City’s unquestionable position as one of the best sides on the planet.
But Haaland’s transfer, along with perhaps the failed European Super League, highlight the levels at which City are now operating.
Beating Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester United to arguably the world’s most-coveted player - only the real elite could achieve that.
City also deserve immense credit for completing the deal, and if Guardiola can lead them to a Premier League title after the Harry Kane and Ferran Torres transfer decisions over the past 12 months, it should be seen as a very savvy manoeuvre from the club.
Pep Guardiola & playing style
The arrival of the Norwegian means Guardiola’s love affair with striker-less systems should finally come to an end - although it’s not impossible to imagine the Catalan coach deploying Haaland in an unorthodox false-nine role, or out wide.
But signing one of the planet’s deadliest goalscorers should ensure City have found the long-term heir for Sergio Aguero, even if there are questions to be asked in the short-term.
Will Guardiola completely rip up his extensive tactical rulebook and start again? Can Haaland be expected to operate in a fluid, multi-functional system? If not, what does that mean for City’s stars who have grown so used to Guardiola’s striker-less model? And while Gabriel Jesus has operated centrally in recent weeks, there’s a huge disparity between the sure-footed Brazilian and the athletic, instinctive former RB Salzburg frontman.
There’s also the concern whether Haaland will immediately adapt to the league, with so many foreign imports needing time to find their feet.
While City have almost certainly wrapped up the signing of the summer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders at the start of next season.
Transfers & squad
A return to a striker-orientated set-up could also alter Guardiola’s summer transfer plans. Assuming the former Barcelona and Bayern manager does want to utilise a traditional centre-forward, is having just one in his squad enough?
While youngster Liam Delap could prove a valuable asset, City may be forced into the market to provide back-up and competition for Haaland.
Likewise, if City operate with one fewer midfielder in the team next season could that result in some of the squad being surplus to requirements?
Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Jesus all enter the final years of their contracts this summer, with the latter duo already linked with moves away from the club. Meanwhile, Guardiola is so often forthcoming in his readiness to sell unsettled stars.
In addition, there’s an argument that the bulk of City’s summer recruitment has already been completed before the window has even opened. Haaland looks all but wrapped up, while the exciting Julian Alvarez is Manchester-bound in the next few months.
Only the issues surrounding the lack of full-back options and replacing Fernandinho remain, but completing the Haaland deal for a relatively cheap price means Guardiola should have the resources at his disposal to reinvest in the squad and ensure it’s better equipped to challenge on multiple fronts next season.
Premier League on top
Not only does this transfer demonstrate City’s status among the preeminent clubs in Europe, it also highlights how far the English top flight has advanced in recent years.
Despite being the most-watched league worldwide, for over a decade too many of the world’s top stars have chosen the bright lights of Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and Munich above Premier League moves.
Indeed, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Eden Hazard were all lured away from these shores in the last decade as their stock seemed to be on the rise.
But the landscape of post-pandemic football appears to be shifting towards one where the English top flight is the most desirable location.
Haaland’s transfer perhaps represents a Premier League first, as one of the world’s top-five players decides to move to the league, unlike Kevin De Bruyne, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, all of whom have developed into the globe’s most-distinguished talents while operating in the division.
Can anyone compete?
Yet for all the glamour and razzmatazz of the Premier League, there is a genuine concern surrounding how attractive a spectacle it will be if a side on the verge of claiming a fourth title in five years add one of the world’s best talents to their ranks.
This is a team who have pushed football in this country to never-before-seen levels over the last five years, while simultaneously distorting the level of competition.
But for all those fears, it’s Liverpool who could wrap up a quadruple this season, Chelsea who are European champions and United who capture the biggest global audience.
As for the sides lower down the division, the immense cash reserves obtained from the Premier League and the slick operations on show at various clubs across the country, means City should never find themselves short of challenging opponents.
While Guardiola’s gaggle will almost certainly start next season as favourites to finish first, the view that City have raised the stakes could see some form of response from the rest of English top clubs.