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Pep Guardiola calls Mino Raiola’s bluff over Erling Haaland transfer – Alex Richards

Pep Guardiola claims Manchester City may not involve themselves in the Erling Haaland transfer battle because they might not bother signing a replacement for Sergio Aguero.

The club’s all-time record goalscorer will leave the Etihad this summer when his contract expires and speaking on Friday, Guardiola admitted: “These decisions are never easy.

“In terms of number he might be replaced but what he means to this club it’s impossible.”

The subject of Aguero’s departure has predictably already turned from his outgoing towards who could arrive as a replacement for the club’s greatest ever striker.

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The name at the top of that list is understood to be Borussia Dortmund hotshot Haaland, who has scored 33 times in 31 games for his club this season.

But Guardiola says City “cannot afford” to compete for his signature. Yes, that Manchester City.

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland
The hottest man on the market

It’s absolute rubbish, of course.

It’s not that the club backed by the wealthy state of Abu Dhabi can’t compete.

It’s not that FFP will get in the way – if it was they should sack their accountants.

It’s purely, and simply, that they don’t want to buy at £150million.

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That was the point of Guardiola’s remarks on Friday at his press conference when he stated: “There is a big chance, with the situation in the world, the economic problems in world football, we are not going to sign any striker for next season.

“It is impossible, we cannot afford it.

“All the clubs are struggling financially, us as well. We have Gabriel [Jesus], Ferran [Torres] who has been incredible, Raheem as a false nine.

“Today there is more chance we don’t sign a striker.”

Needless to say, tomorrow is a new day.

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Pep Guardiola, manager of Manchester City speaks during a press conference
Pep Guardiola knows the game he’s playing

Mino Raiola, Haaland’s agent, is always looking towards tomorrow.

That’s why this week he began touring prospective buyers of his client, making his way to Spain to visit both Barcelona and Real Madrid on Thursday; the Premier League’s big-money elite is scheduled to be his next port of call.

Raiola wants to know the finances of course, but he also wants a portrait painted of what his client will be walking into. He wants to take as much uncertainty out of Haaland’s next step as possible.

Those trips have been made despite the fact that Raiola was told by Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday that they won’t be selling this summer.

“We’ve made our intentions very clear,” said Michael Zorc, the club’s sporting director. “I am relaxed because I know what we want.”

Mino Raiola, in Barcelona on Thursday

BVB signed Haaland with the intention of keeping him until 2022, when his €75million release clause kicks in.

Raiola’s intention was for that too, but, as he admitted earlier this week, Haaland’s growth at the Westfalenstadion has been quicker than expected.

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The Dutch-Italian agent knows that while the 20-year-old is “the talk of the town”, his stock will never be higher. Nor will the commission.

Hence, he’s whipping up a frenzy. He wants Dortmund to cash in this summer, potentially to the tune of £150million.

And he knows that, despite the German giants not wanting to, that’s money that they simply won’t be able to turn down if they don’t finish in the Bundesliga’s top four, which, at present, is a possibility.

Even if they do qualify, they may well cash in anyway.

Erling Braut Haaland celebrates scoring vs Bayern Munich for Borussia Dortmund
Haaland is thriving in Dortmund – but it is just a stepping stone for the Norwegian

After all, their business model is to play the futures market with young talent, signing them early, polishing them up and then selling when they can extract the highest possible value.

But BVB chiefs know that at some point they have to try and win the title too. There is growing pressure in Germany for the country’s second biggest football club – financially speaking – to mount an actual sustained challenge to Bayern Munich, something that just hasn’t happened in recent years.

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Next season, under a new, highly-rated manager in Marco Rose, it might just be their best chance of ending Bayern’s domestic dominance.

Foregoing £70million and keeping the current No.9 may be required. They have more chance of silverware with him than without.

Don’t think Pep Guardiola hasn’t thought of that. Nor the City board.

Don’t think that they don’t realise that there isn’t going to be any Haaland transfer agreed before next week’s Champions League quarter-final between City and Dortmund – when you can guarantee there will be some informal discussions carried out.

Don’t think they haven’t thought that playing the long game can be mutually beneficial to themselves and BVB.

However you slice it, City are coming into this from a major position of strength compared to rival parties. Financially they can’t be matched – regardless of Guardiola’s comments – and Aguero’s exit has created an opening.

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Raiola has spent this week making his opening moves in the game of Haaland transfer poker.

Right now, Guardiola is happy to call his bluff. But whatever you do, don’t be fooled into thinking he’s folded his cards.

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