Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are already on the defensive ahead of the summer transfer window — and the current season still has a couple of weeks left to play out.
Manchester City officially announced the signing of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, making clear to everyone they could that it was for a transfer fee of just £51m.
‘Less than Manchester United paid for Fred!’ one journalist tweeted. ‘Only about £10m more than Manchester United paid for Rio Ferdinand two decades ago!’ was the general gist of another’s reaction.
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If, as Guardiola claimed earlier in the week, the media loves Liverpool and hates Manchester City, these two examples must be very rare exceptions.
The reality is, no matter what Manchester City say, the deal to bring Haaland to Manchester is no bargain. It will cost more than £200m in all, with huge bonuses going the way of the Norwegian forward’s representatives and the 21-year-old on mega wages.
Make no mistake: Haaland is one of the biggest talents in world football, and already one of the very best players out there. He will solve a ‘problem’ for Manchester City in giving them a true number nine who will score goals by the bucketload. But a cheap steal of a transfer move? Let’s be real.
Manchester City and Guardiola clearly know that too. Having spent £100m on Jack Grealish last summer, they no longer even have the excuse of Liverpool having a bigger record signing — as if several £50m deals for defenders, for instance, did not total more than the signing of Virgil van Dijk at £ 75m.
The Manchester City boss was quick to get ahead of that narrative changing too amid the deal for Haaland, claiming that Liverpool are treated differently across the board.
“For the people, it’s just money. OK, if you want to think about that, think about that,” Guardiola told Sky Sports ahead of his side’s game with Wolves. “I know exactly what I’m working for here and I say ‘OK, don’t give me credit, don’t give us credit but let us give ourselves credit. As a manager, to give to my players and my staff [credit].’
“When Liverpool in the 70s or 80s [were winning titles] who spent more money? Was it Norwich? Did Norwich spend more money in that period? Did Leicester spend more money? No, they [Liverpool] spend more money than the other ones. But the money then is completely different than now.”
Guardiola went on to refute the suggestion from some that Manchester City’s Etihad sponsorship has been inflated and appeared to suggest that it does not matter where the money comes from or how much is spent. He has been fixed for some time on not getting the credit for his work that he feels he deserves.
“When we put here [points to the centre of his torso] Etihad…’oh it’s overpaid’,” he said. “But now United and Liverpool or whatever is going to pay maybe more because they are working well, because the CEO negotiate well, because whatever happened.”
Between the denial of sportswashing and the plan to make the Erling Haaland deal appear far cheaper than it is in reality, Manchester City and their manager have already started on the defensive.
Liverpool and the wider world, though — and even Guardiola himself, deep down — knows the reality of the situation is very different. Having spent big again, Manchester City need to do what Liverpool have proven themselves capable of already under Klopp and win the Champions League.
Haaland might well help them do that, but they cannot hide behind their financial reality.