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Why Pep Guardiola pulled the plug on Man City to sign Harry Kane and turned to Erling Haaland

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

Kane, seen by City as the best striker in the Premier League before the arrival of Haaland from Dortmund, would be a perfect fit for manager Pep Guardiola.

That’s why they turned to the England captain in the weeks following Sergio Aguero’s departure last summer.

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

That prompted the Premier League champions to turn their attention to Tottenham's Harry Kane

That prompted the Premier League champions to turn their attention to Tottenham’s Harry Kane

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

So Project Kane was underway. A brief venture, which ended abruptly after two talks with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who insisted they weren’t selling. Kane’s representatives encouraged City that Levy would change their mind but the price tag, £150m and more, convinced Guardiola to look elsewhere.

And by the time Kane put in the best individual performance last season, scoring twice in Tottenham’s 3-2 win over the Etihad in February, City were well on their way to signing Haaland.

They started the charm offensive in October to convince the striker, had the conditions in place in March and got a definitive yes in mid-April.

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

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

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

Haaland has made an exciting start to his City career with 12 goals in eight games

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

Ultimately, the 22-year-old’s decision came down to City and Real Madrid. The most important aspect of the talks was to convince him that he was now ready for the rigors of English football rather than waiting. City told him their asset-based system would ease his physical strain.

Haaland has since proven why he was the number one choice and got off to an exciting start to his City career with 12 goals in seven games. Guardiola said: “I have often said that we are overrated as managers. The game belongs to the players. He can improve and get better with the connection with his teammates. In time he will become a better player.’

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

At City there is satisfaction with the way this has fallen into place – a justification for not pushing the boundaries for Kane and landing one of the best young strikers in the world.

City believe this deal is proof that their hiring model is operating at a level few others can match. After a huge spend in 2017 – with three full backs, Ederson and Bernardo Silva joining for over £200m – there is a closer look at the value of the spend.

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

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

The summer revival of Guardiola’s squad, five new faces offset by the sale of three big names and a group of youngsters, ended in a £55 million profit. Only Brighton has published more profitable numbers in the past two seasons.

City’s record compared to their main European rivals is much the same. More broadly, 11 Premier League clubs have increased net spending in the five years since 2017 – including Fulham, Aston Villa and West Ham – and 10 are in the Champions League. City are £153 million in the black at the time.

The numbers, in and out, are huge. Only Manchester United and Chelsea have spent more than £650million on City in the last five years, but are nowhere near the £497m received.

It allows them to sign Jack Grealish for £100 million and this summer Haaland for an overall package – with brokerage fees and sign up bonuses – that’s not far from that number.

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

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

Wages have risen as a result, with city resources not excluding significant investment in the next priority area, which is expected to be in central midfield. It’s not a leap to suggest that they will pay attention to Jude Bellingham’s performance for Dortmund on Wednesday.

For now, however, Guardiola got what he wanted: a front-line striker to help them cross the line in Europe. Captain Ilkay Gundogan said, “The numbers speak for themselves. His character and attitude off the field is incredible. He is very mature for such a young boy.

“Having a good striker now, physically strong and determined, is going to help us a lot.”

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

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