The race to secure Erling Haaland’s signature has been one of the most hotly-contested transfer sagas in recent memory – and it would seem to still be finally reaching its conclusion.
Multiple UK media outlets have reported that Manchester City will likely announce in the coming week that it has agreed a deal with Borussia Dortmund for the striker’s services.
Haaland’s brute force, blistering pace and devastating finishing ability have made him one of the most sought-after players in the world, meaning Dortmund has been resigned to losing its star player ever since signing him in 2020.
While many clubs would understandably be frustrated at constantly losing out to those higher in the pecking order, the inevitably of the transfers make them much easier to manage, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke says.
“That’s the only way for us because when a player performs very well, we have to fight against the big, big, big clubs with the oligarchs and the Arabian states at their back,” Watzke tells CNN Senior Sport Analyst Darren Lewis.
“And this fight we cannot win, but we can win a fight over an 18-year-old player, like Jude Bellingham, because this player loves to play at Borussia Dortmund because we have always 80,000 spectators, it’s a very good atmosphere and the club knows how to manage young players.
“That’s our way and, okay, we have a good department who are scouting young players every day, but it’s also very important if you have the player here, you must develop him and I think that works … most of the time, it works.”
Watzke is under no illusions about where Dortmund stands in the hierarchy of modern football.
The club has nurtured – and then sold – many of Europe’s biggest and most expensive stars of recent years; Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jadon Sancho, Mario Götze, Mats Hummels, Ousmane Dembélé and Christian Pulisic are among the players to have worn the famous black and yellow shirts.
While Watzke understands that a high player turnover is part of the business, there is still a human being behind a transfer fee, and on certain occasions, waving goodbye is harder than others.
“Sometimes, it’s a little bit more emotional,” Watzke admits. “It was very emotional for me when Mats Hummels told me in 2016 that he will leave the club after I think seven or eight years because it was a long period and we had a very special relationship.
“But sometimes, players are at Borussia Dortmund for one, two, three years, and in this period, it’s not so deep with the emotions and it’s normal in football that players come, players go and if they want to go, OK.
“Sometimes, it’s a good deal; sometimes, it’s not so good. When we sold Ousmane Dembélé to Barcelona after a short period, it was a very good deal. When Robert Lewandowski left us without transfer fee, it was not a good deal, but that’s football.”
It would seem now that Haaland is next up to leave the club.
The 21-year-old has scored a remarkable 85 goals in 88 games since joining from RB Salzburg in 2020, breaking numerous Bundesliga and Champions League records along the way.
Manchester City looks set to meet Haaland’s reported release clause of €75 million ($79 million) – a veritable bargain given his talents and the current transfer fee climate – and beat a number of Europe’s biggest clubs to his signature, including Real Madrid, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.
On the day of CNN’s interview with Watzke (April 26), the Dortmund CEO admitted he didn’t know whether Haaland would leave during the European summer transfer window. What he did know for sure, however, was if Haaland did leave, Dortmund will continue competing as it always has done.
“It’s a decision for Erling,” Watzke said. “Erling, you know, has an exit clause and he must decide if we wants to take this exit clause or not and he has time to give us his decision. When the time is ready, he will do it.
“But we [Dortmund] have played football for 113 years, and for 111 years, we played without Erling Haaland. We had Robert Lewandowski and then he left us in 2014, but we played football in ’15, ‘16, ‘17 until now.
“Then next came Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and then Erling Haaland and you can be sure if Erling takes a decision to leave us, we will find the next [player] 100% percent.”