Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is targeting Erling Braut Haaland as Sergio Aguero’s replacement – but there are other options if he misses out on the Norwegian, and they include England skipper Harry Kane.
Guardiola has had a plan to bring in a new striker for some time now, which meant Aguero was likely to have even less playing time than he has had recently.
The finality over the Argentine’s future does leave City clear to pursue replacements. And no matter who they eventually sign, it will be one of the biggest deals of the summer.
Haaland the number one target
It is no surprise 20-year-old Haaland is at the top of Guardiola’s wish-list.
The Norway and Borussia Dortmund forward has become the most coveted young number nine in Europe through his sheer weight of goals and he will be looking to add to his tally against City in their Champions League last-16 tie.
Only prolific Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has scored more than Haaland’s 21 goals in the Bundesliga this season, while earlier this month he reached 20 Champions League goals in only 14 appearances.
However, signing Haaland is not straightforward. His controversial agent Mino Raiola seemed to be suggesting the striker would be on the move this summer when in a recent interview with The Athletic, he told a story of an unnamed player who, together with his parents, he decided to leave with his club despite interest from elsewhere.
The player then suffered two ligament injuries, which virtually ended his career. “Sometimes football is a train that passes by,” he said. “You can say ‘let’s take the next train’. But sometimes the next train doesn’t come.”
Yet there are reasons why a transfer in the summer of 2022 would make more sense.
Haaland’s Dortmund contract does not expire until 2024, although it is thought to contain a release clause of 75m euros (£64m) that can be activated next year. In addition, financial constraints around Barcelona and Real Madrid are likely to take two of the most attractive potential destinations out of the equation this summer.
Still, if Haaland does leave, Chelsea and Manchester United will want to be kept abreast of developments and there are no guarantees City is where he will end up, even though his dad, Alfie, played for them.
In an interview with BBC sports editor Dan Roan in February, Raiola said: “Only a maximum of 10 clubs can afford to buy [Haaland] and give the platform you would like after you’ve been in Dortmund… and four of those clubs are in [England].”
What are the other options?
Kane’s Tottenham future is the subject of huge debate.
Spurs seem to have gone backwards under Jose Mourinho and, at 27, time is running out for the England captain to win the game’s major prizes.
However, Tottenham play City in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley on 25 April and although they will start as outsiders, they could at least end that 13-year wait for a major trophy.
As with Haaland, Kane’s contract does not expire until 2024.
Former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku may be more easily attainable given the financial issues Inter Milan’s Chinese parent company Suning are wrestling with.
Lukaku’s club colleague Lautaro Martinez has also been mentioned as a target, although he is not a number nine in the conventional sense.
City flexing their financial muscle
It is less than five months since Guardiola signed a new City contract that will keep him with the Blues until 2023.
When Guardiola’s new deal was announced, City were halfway in the Premier League and it was anticipated a major rebuild would be required.
Wind the clock forward and City are now 14 points clear at the top of the table and talk is intensifying over an unprecedented quadruple.
Guardiola has found a winning formula that does not even need a main striker and the strength of his squad appears beyond the scope of any rival, either domestic or in Europe.
But the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has an insatiable drive for perfection. Despite the presence of Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, he is actively looking at creative options, which is why Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish’s name keeps cropping up.
Some of the steam seems to have gone out of links with Lionel Messi now the Barcelona presidential elections have brought some calm to the Nou Camp and on Wednesday Spanish newspaper Sport said it was “case closed” on the Argentine moving to City.
But around the time of Guardiola’s contract extension announcement, there was massive speculation over the pair being reunited and a further plan for Messi to be used later in his career across the wider City Football Group.
There was foundation to the stories, so it cannot be completely discounted he remains part of the bigger picture.
Left-back remains an issue, although Joao Cancelo’s stunning form in the unique role that combines a full-back’s defensive duties with those of a midfield pivot, has lessened the urgency of that search, while at the same time raising question marks over Benjamin Mendy’s continued presence at the club.
Aguero to a Premier League rival?
Despite the injury problems that have dogged him this term, Aguero feels he can still play at a high level, so he is not intent on returning to Argentina just yet.
It is also known he has not ruled out moving to another Premier League club, as implausible as it may seem given his legacy at City is so great the club have already agreed to commission a statue of him.
So, while Barcelona is a possibility, along with Juventus, Inter and Paris St-Germain, it will be interesting to see whether any loose talk of interest from Chelsea and Liverpool develops into anything concrete, or even Manchester United given the uncertainty over Edinson Cavani’s future.