Real Madrid president Florentino Perez led the club’s Operation Saving Face over Erling Haaland last week, declaring that not only would the striker fail to get in their team at the moment but they would be activating his release clause in 2024 anyway.
The mission had some success, getting the message across in Spanish media that losing out on Haaland to Manchester City this summer was in fact better for their masterplan. With such a spin, Pep Guardiola is already helpless to stop a superstar he has only just signed from making a swift exit in two years time and the natural order of big clubs is restored.
In reality, things are different – even if the outstanding form of Karim Benzema and expected signing of Kylian Mbappe from Real Madrid did play a part in dissuading Haaland from a move to La Liga for now. Whereas City is effectively set up for a No.9 to feast, the path to glory at the Bernabeu appeared less clear.
Clarity is also lacking on Haaland’s release clause at the Etihad. The doubt is not that something exists, since City sources admit this was a necessity for all clubs wishing to sign the player (La Liga, of course, requires every signing to have one); United infamously declared a release clause as ‘bad for the industry’ when they lost out on Haaland to Dortmund in 2020, and the relative fortunes of the striker and United since indicate it is hard to underestimate quite how bad a decision that was from Old Trafford bosses.
The details of the clause – when it comes into effect and how much it is – have not surfaced yet though, just like when he was at Dortmund. In that void is claim and counter-claim – when German newspaper BILD reported a €150m release clause for the Norwegian, the suggestion from the Etihad was that the number was much, much higher; Spanish media have since reported the same number, although it is worth pointing out that everybody had the wrong figure for Haaland’s clause at Dortmund up to the day where City announced a deal with Dortmund last month.
While Txiki Begiristain will be unable to do much if the unknown figure is triggered at the unknown time, their work in securing the striker ahead of other top European clubs suggests that the presence of any clause isn’t the smoking gun that Real Madrid may think it is. City knew when they were doing business what would be needed to sign him, and also knew – as has been the case with Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and others – that players can be tempted by other leagues and other clubs.
Haaland is a slightly different case because of his profile already in the game, but just as City did with David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Guardiola, all they can do is everything possible to keep convincing Haaland there is no better place for him than where he called home in his first interview as a Blue. Given the diligence done on all signings, and the connections with the club that have been in place for over 20 years thanks to his father, City can be confident that any decisions Haaland makes in future will give them the respect they are due.