Why Guardiola pulled the plug on signing Kane and turned to Haaland

Why Pep Guardiola pulled the plug on Manchester City’s pursuit of Harry Kane and turned instead to Erling Haaland… who now prepares to face his former club Borussia Dortmund

  • Tottenham rejected Manchester City’s attempts to sign Harry Kane last year
  • City then began the charm offensive to convince Erling Haaland to join instead
  • The then-Borussia Dortmund striker chose to sign for City over Real Madrid 
  • He has made an electrifying start to his City career with 12 goals in seven games

If things had gone differently last year it would be Harry Kane lining up for Manchester City against Erling Haaland and Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night.

Kane, viewed by City as the best striker in the Premier League before Haaland’s arrival from Dortmund, would have been a perfect fit for manager Pep Guardiola.

It is why, in the weeks after Sergio Aguero’s departure last summer, they turned to the England captain. 

Borussia Dortmund rebuffed Manchester City’s attempts to sign Erling Haaland last year 

That led the Premier League champions to turn their attentions to Tottenham’s Harry Kane

City had wanted Haaland first — a dossier on the Norwegian sat in the club’s database from his time as a prodigious teenager at Bryne — but were told by Wednesday’s Champions League opponents to forget it. 

So Project Kane was under way. A short venture, coming to an abrupt end after two conversations with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who insisted they were not selling. Kane’s representatives offered City encouragement that Levy would change his mind yet the price tag, £150million and beyond, persuaded Guardiola to look elsewhere.

And by the time Kane was producing the best individual performance of last season, scoring twice in Tottenham’s 3-2 victory at the Etihad in February, City were well on their way to securing Haaland.

They started the charm offensive to convince the striker in October, had terms in place by March and were given a definitive yes in mid-April.

Guardiola said yesterday that he was informed by sporting director Txiki Begiristain during a ‘two-second’ conversation and his cool response to the news was: ‘OK, fine.’ He may have been slightly economical with that particular truth.

But Spurs chairman Daniel Levy insisted that the club would not sell Kane for less than £150m

Haaland has made an electrifying start to his City career with 12 goals in seven games

In the end, the 22-year-old’s decision came down to City and Real Madrid. The key aspect during talks was persuading him that he was ready for the rigours of English football now rather than waiting. City told him their possession-based system would lighten his physical load.

Haaland has since proven why he was first choice, making an electrifying start to his City career with 12 goals in seven games. Guardiola said: ‘I’ve said many times that we are over-rated as managers. The game belongs to the players. He can improve and be better with the connection with his team-mates. Over time he will be a better player.’

Wednesday presents a reunion with the club who moulded Haaland into a global phenomenon but for whom the intensity of swirling speculation earlier in the year became, as Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl said this week, a ‘burden’.

At City, there is satisfaction at the way this has fallen into place — a vindication in not pushing the envelope for Kane and landing one of the best young striker in the world.

City believe this deal represents proof that their recruitment model is working at a level few others can match. Following a huge outlay in 2017 — with three full backs, Ederson and Bernardo Silva joining for more than £200m — there is a closer eye on the value of outgoings.

Kane scored twice in Tottenham’s 3-2 victory over City at the Etihad Stadium in February


The summer regeneration of Guardiola’s squad, five new faces offset by the sales of three big names and a cluster of youngsters, ended in a £55m profit. Only Brighton have posted more profitable figures over the past two seasons.

City’s record compared to their main European rivals is much the same. More broadly, 11 Premier League clubs have a larger net spend in the five years since 2017 — including Fulham, Aston Villa and West Ham — and there are 10 in the Champions League. City are £153m in the black over that time.

The figures, in and out, are massive. Only Manchester United and Chelsea have outspent City’s £650m in the last five years but neither go close to the £497m received.

It allows them to sign Jack Grealish for £100m and, this summer, Haaland for an overall package — with agent fees and signing-on bonuses — that is not too far from that number. 

Pep Guardiola has got his wish: a frontline striker to help push City over the line in Europe

The wage bill has gone up as a result, with City sources not ruling out significant investment in the next priority area, which is expected to be in central midfield. It is not a leap to suggest they may pay attention to Jude Bellingham’s performance for Dortmund on Wednesday.

For now though Guardiola got what he wanted: a frontline striker to help push them over the line in Europe. Captain Ilkay Gundogan said: ‘The numbers speak for themselves. His character and attitude off the pitch is incredible. For such a young boy he is very mature.

‘Having a proper striker now, physically strong and determined, is going to help us a lot.’

When asked how Dortmund go about stopping Haaland on Wednesday, Bellingham laughed and said: ‘I’m not really sure to be honest. It’s not an individual task, the team has to deal with it collectively.’

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