The New Year was barely three days old when the first major transfer reports relating to Manchester United began to trickle through, heralding the start of a new phase of the season.
Nobody should be surprised, mind, given how much attention gets paid to United, especially when the January transfer market has just opened.Although the summer window stretched into October, there is no lack of thirst for more tasty titbits where this behemoth football club is concerned.
From Jadon Sancho to Erling Haaland; it does not feel like too much of a stretch, given United’s obvious need for attacking reinforcements, especially those of a young age — not to mention the immense potential of the two Borussia Dortmund players. Edinson Cavani’s impact has been significant this season but he’s a 33-year-old who was signed on a short-term deal, acquired mainly because United did not land a list of other attacking targets, of which Sancho was their priority.
Both Haaland and Sancho are admired by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and would fit the style of his United team perfectly. They are predictable targets.
Yet latest reports claim interest in Sancho has ‘cooled’ after the England international’s disappointing returns for Dortmund so far this season, with the suggestion that Haaland has been installed as the new top target instead.
Despite the acrimony between Haaland’s father Alf Inge and United legend Roy Keane (a close friend of Solskjaer) — and the family’s links to rivals Man City and Leeds United — it’s a saga that would make a great deal of sense should it come to dominate 2021 in the football world.
Haaland, 20, played under Solskjaer at Norwegian club Molde and is the poster boy for the Scandinavian country’s footballing renaissance right now.
He has managed more goals than starts while at Dortmund, plundering 33 in 26 across the Bundesliga and Champions League in the past 12 months. His form has prompted links with City and Liverpool, as well as United.
But even if reports that Haaland has a £70million release clause in his contract (which activates in the summer) prove to be true, he still presents United and Solskjaer with a serious dilemma.
It’s the same problem they encountered when trying to sign Haaland just over a year ago; the same problem that has plagued United this season with relation to Paul Pogba. It’s Mino Raiola.
Sources told the MEN, during Haaland negotiations in December 2019 when he was braced to leave RB Salzburg, Raiola wanted to secure a share from future sales of the Norwegian as part of the transfer. United were unwilling to meet the proposed terms, while Dortmund took a different view and got their man. United are understood to be reluctant to trade with Raiola again.
The ‘super agent’ has not helped that cause lately with a string of comments about Pogba’s future, most recently insisting the French midfielder would leave Old Trafford, speaking on the eve of a crucial Champions League clash with Leipzig. Which United lost. He is not the most popular person within the walls of Carrington these days.
United great Gary Neville was so vexed by Raiola that he felt compelled to tell United, in no uncertain terms, to avoid Haaland altogether because of his choice of agent.
Speaking on Sky Sports, he said: “Manchester United have got a big problem while they’ve got a star player in the dressing room whose agent is categorically going to go out before the biggest game of the season and say his client doesn’t want to be at the football club.
“The lack of respect… the guy should never be dealt with again by this football club. This football club has to stand still and look what’s happened with him.”
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Manchester United stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 games as they recorded a deserved 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
Goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes got the job done as United kept the pressure up on defending champions and league leaders Liverpool.
United’s next game is against City in the Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek.
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On Haaland specifically, Neville added: “No they can’t go and sign another player with that agent they cannot do that. Enough is enough.”
Solskjaer himself has suggested that “players can choose their own representatives” but perhaps Neville is right in this case. United cannot cede to Raiola’s demands. Only if a smooth and seamless deal is possible (with minimal to no agent negotiations), should they swoop for Haaland.
It may be a huge shame for Solskjaer, who would clearly love to bring Haaland to United; it may be a shame for United supporters, who would adore watching a player like Haaland light up Old Trafford; but it may not be possible.
United won’t go for such big-named signings in January, so they have until the summer to weigh up the significant pros and cons of trying to sign Erling Haaland.