‘We cannot replace him’. These were the words of a teary-eyed Pep Guardiola after iconic striker Sergio Aguero left Man City in 2021.
But after failing to sign football icons Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, City have found the superstar they have craved for so long in summer signing Erling Haaland.
The Norwegian has only been at the Etihad since the beginning of the summer, but it is already clear that he was the missing puzzle piece in the already star-studded Man City squad.
Of course, Guardiola’s side did still win their second Premier League title in a row last season before ex-Borussia Dortmund star Haaland’s arrival.
But the absence of a natural, senior centre-forward was a clear gap in the City ranks following Aguero’s move to Barcelona, narrowly seeing off title rivals Liverpool and getting knocked out of the other major competitions.
Now, though, Haaland has got them firing more than ever before. He is already on 17 goals in 11 appearances this season – just six shy of last season’s top scorer Riyad Mahrez’s tally of 24.
After missing out on bringing established football stars Messi and Ronaldo into their ranks, City seemed to have struck while the iron was hot with Haaland… but how did they get here?
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Missing out on Messi
Given City boss Guardiola’s links with football legend Messi, it’s unsurprising the Argentine was touted with a move to the Etihad.
Barcelona couldn’t offer their talisman a new contract at the end of the 2020/21 season for financial reasons, making him a free agent.
And it’s no shock there was speculation that he could join his ex-Barca boss at City after Aguero left to join the club that Guardiola and Messi worked together at.
Together, the pair won multiple LaLiga titles, Copa del Reys, Champions Leagues, Supercopa de Espanas, Super Cups and Club World Cup – so to be reunited would have made perfect sense.
Of course, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner eventually ended up at Paris Saint-Germain instead. But it was reported City did try to go for him in 2021.
However, signing Jack Grealish for £100million from Aston Villa just before Barca announced Messi’s departure affected their plans.
“We were incredibly convinced on Grealish and convinced Messi would stay at Barcelona,” Guardiola explained during the transfer window.
“Right now, it’s not in our thoughts. Absolutely not.”
Wrong place for Ronaldo
Then came another one of football’s icons, Ronaldo.
A move to Man City would’ve been seen as unthinkable for the Portuguese star a decade ago, given he made a name for himself with local rivals Man United.
But last summer, as City looked to find a new Aguero, they had their eye set on the Red Devils legend.
And at one point, it looked likely that Ronaldo was going to swap his Manchester allegiances from red to sky blue.
Despite some unfriendly interactions during their respective careers in Spain when Ronaldo was at Barca’s rivals Real Madrid, Guardiola has since been full of compliments for CR7.
But when reports began to emerge of the then-free agent being close to signing for City, Man United jumped in to save Ronaldo’s status at Old Trafford, signing him on a two-year deal.
It’s clear Guardiola still has a lot of admiration for the 37-year-old though, despite the failed move.
“They [Man United] have one of the best players in history,” he said before the first Manchester derby since Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford last year. “A guy who can be a scoring machine.”
Messi and Ronaldo have long since cemented their place as two of the best players in the sport’s history.
But at the rate Haaland’s going, it looks like the City star will be up there by the time he reaches his thirties, too.
It almost seemed like destiny when the Norwegian started being linked with a move to the Etihad, given his dad played for City and Erling himself having many pictures taken in the club’s kits a child.
Signing a five-year-deal this summer for a fee of £51m, Haaland is certainly already proving his worth.
There may well have been someone to replace Aguero, after all.
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