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Manchester City

Unstoppable Haaland proves Man City were lucky to miss out on signing Harry Kane

5:31 pm AEST 10/9/22
PEP_HAALAND_16-9
Following the departure of Sergio Aguero, the Premier League champions wanted the Spurs striker but had to wait another 12 months for a replacement

The postponement of Tottenham’s visit to Manchester City has delayed the chance to see a head-to-head between arguably the Premier League’s best two strikers - Harry Kane and Erling Haaland.

Both have hit significant milestones already this season - Kane moving into the top three of all-time Premier League goalscorers, Haaland equalling the record for quickest to 10 goals.

One has been a standout performer for more than a decade, the other is threatening to rip up the record books with his astonishing and seemingly unstoppable ability to score goals.

While it would have been fascinating to see them on the same pitch, there would also have been a narrative of Kane wanting to show City that they still missed out on the striker that suited them best.

He did that last February on his first encounter following City’s summer-long on-off pursuit that ultimately ended with him staying at Spurs.

Kane scored twice including a late winner but it was his all-round performance was one of the most impressive individual displays in recent years with his intelligent movement and passing - dropping deep and finding team-mates - causing City problem throughout the 90 minutes.

He was denied the opportunity of a lifetime when his move to City failed to materialise.

Three months after Tottenham’s 3-2 victory at the Etihad Stadium it was a familiar story. The City squad celebrated another Premier League title, Kane’s season ended just like all his others, without any sort of silverware.

Spurs have at least picked up under Antonio Conte, finishing in the top-four and investing in the squad in the summer, but the chances of a major trophy remain a hope rather than the expectancy it is at City.

With a long-term contract signed, Tottenham dug their heels in last summer, demanding around £150million which City refused to pay, and Kane was trapped in London.

If the striker was disappointed, he couldn’t possibly say so now. But if there was any contentment in the way that events have since unfolded, no one at City would reveal that either.

But there would be every reason to suggest that missing out on Kane was an escape and that by signing Haaland, a 12-month delay in replacing Sergio Aguero worked out perfectly for the Premier League champions.

Of course, spending a season without a number nine was a huge risk and only a coach with the brilliance of Pep Guardiola could manoeuvre his team so they scored 99 goals to hold off the challenge of Liverpool.

The reward was to be able to trigger Haaland’s £51m release clause and win the race for the most exciting young striker in world football.

In purely monetary terms, even with the addition of the extras that came with his transfer from Borussia Dortmund, the cost of his arrival compared to what they were prepared to pay for Kane is considerably less.

Add in the prospect of a potential departure further down the line and the difference in sell-on fees for Haaland, who just turned 22, and Kane, now 29, could be even bigger.

While the simple numbers work in the Norwegian’s favour, it’s irrelevant if he’s not effective on the pitch and Haaland has made an extraordinary start with 12 goals from seven Premier League and Champions League appearances.

There is little doubt that Kane would have been a success at City, but would he have made the same transformative impact as Haaland?

So far, there’s been something special about Haaland - a brutality that makes him the perfect fit. Amid the elegance and style of his team-mates that sends opponents into a spin, he has a killer instinct that sends them flying to the canvas.

“It's always he's there, always he's there,” Guardiola said. “It's always the feeling that he could score more goals.”

Mapping his goals doesn’t suggest anything extraordinary - they’re mostly within the width of the posts, predominantly from close range but no further than the edge of the box.

Yet it is extraordinary that a player is able to find space and shooting opportunities against sides that play so deep and fill their box with numbers to restrict chances.

With gifted team-mates like Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish, they are beginning to become aware of exactly the spaces to hit and the types of movement they get from their front man.

An alternative then is to keep Haaland away from being so close to goal? But his lightning pace, strength coolness in one-on-one situations and ability to play on the last man makes that as equally dangerous.

Goals from through-balls came regularly during his time at Dortmund and he’s already sent a warning that it will be the same in the Premier League with those types of finishes against West Ham and Crystal Palace.

Assists-king De Bruyne has already got the taste for delivering those types of passes and has said that he’s shocked at his ability to get onto them.

“He is really, really quick,” he said. “I didn't know he was that fast before he came here."

The potential is terrifying as they get to know each other and Haaland is going to grow is effectiveness training under Guardiola and with such a willingness to learn.

It all adds to the excitement around Haaland but how would Kane have worked out?

Certainly Guardiola wanted him and he would have been an entirely different type of player, adding number nine sophistication to a team of style.

While Haaland has few touches - making the most of each - Kane would have been heavily involved and his link-up with Son Heung-Min would have replicated with runners either side and from behind him.

We’ll never know the answer, but it’s difficult to think of any player in the world having quite the instant impact has had, even Kane.

If he missed out on a dream opportunity, City maybe just got a little lucky.