There has never been a football player in such great demand as Erling Haaland. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may have been the dream signings for every top club in the world for the past decade, and Kylian Mbappe might one day enter that bracket, but none of them right now are in the position that Haaland now enjoys. He can pick whichever A-list team takes his fancy.
Barcelona have paid Messi so well over the years, and won so many trophies, that he is only now, approaching his 34th birthday, able to think about exploiting his free-agent status this summer. But even if he moves on, his huge wages and demands will severely limit his options.
Juventus forward Ronaldo has similarly been tied to Manchester United and Real Madrid for the best years of his career, until those clubs felt able to let him go. As for Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain’s financial power will always give them a level of control over the 22-year-old’s future — even if he is a wanted man.
Haaland’s situation is different: the unique combination of the 20-year-old’s prodigious talent and contractual situation at Borussia Dortmund means he will enter this summer as the player with the world at his feet. He is the hottest property in the game, and at a time when nearly all of the leading clubs need a prolific centre-forward. Haaland and his advisors are smart enough to know that they can stand back and watch as the scramble to sign him unfolds.
In October 2019, shortly after Haaland scored a hat trick for FC Salzburg on his Champions League debut against Genk, his father Alfie told ESPN that each step in Erling’s career would be taken with great thought, rather than jumping at the first opportunity to come along.
“If he has choices, you have to be careful with what you choose,” Alfie said. “We look at the history of the club, the manager, their philosophy.”
Two months later, Haaland rejected a move from Salzburg to Man United, in favour of Dortmund, because of the development path a move to Germany offered. Sources have told ESPN that Haaland and his advisors believe the decision has been justified, and any future move will be taken with the same long-term perspective.
There is a growing likelihood that the next move will happen this summer, a year before a €75m (£64.5m) release clause can be triggered in his Dortmund contract. Dortmund know they could sell for at least double that figure at the end of this season and, if they fail to climb from sixth into the Bundesliga top four and qualify for the Champions League, selling their prized asset may become a financial necessity.
But where is Haaland most likely to go? . . .