Non-League Ashton United claim to have made a cheeky bid to sign Erling Haaland on loan from neighbours Manchester City during the World Cup.
With top-flight football taking a break for the global showpiece in Qatar, the prolific Haaland will be out of action in the coming weeks as his country Norway failed to qualify.
Ashton, of the Northern Premier League Premier Division, English football’s seventh tier, believe they can offer the formidable striker the perfect solution to help him maintain his match fitness.
“It just makes sense,” Robins manager Michael Clegg told ashtonunited.co.uk. “City aren’t playing, and we want to help by keeping Erling fit. It makes more sense than him playing golf for six weeks.
“We think he will be a great fit for us and would slot in with our squad dynamic really well.”
Ashton, who are based just six miles from City’s Etihad Stadium, are 11th in their division and were beaten 2-0 in front of a crowd of 622 at Gainsborough Trinity on Saturday.
Haaland has scored 23 goals in just 18 appearances for Premier League champions City since his £51m summer move from Borussia Dortmund.
City manager Pep Guardiola said last week Haaland would be allowed some time off – which he expected him to split between a holiday in Marbella and a visit home to Norway – before returning to training in early December.
Whether or not the 22-year-old is tempted by Ashton’s unlikely offer remains to be seen. The article on the club’s website added: “The club are yet to receive any response from Manchester City.”
Pep Guardiola has sarcastically dismissed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s claim that ego could prevent the Manchester City manager from making Erling Haaland even better.
Haaland has begun superbly at City, scoring 22 goals in 15 appearances, yet Guardiola believes the striker can improve. Ibrahimovic has a long-running feud with the Catalan that dates to their clashing at Barcelona in the 2009-10 season.
Guardiola was asked about Ibrahimovic’s claim regarding his ego. “He is right, he is completely right,” the manager said. “In this club, in this team, my ego is beyond every other person, every player. I don’t like it when Erling scores three goals, and all the highlights are for him. I am so jealous! Honestly, so jealous!
“I said: ‘Erling, please no more goals otherwise [newspapers] won’t talk about me, and just about me.’ He is right, he knows me perfectly. He can write another book.”
Asked whether he was being sarcastic, Guardiola said: “No, I am right in what I am saying. My ego is [through the roof].”
This week Ibrahimovic told Canal+: “Is Guardiola able to improve him? That depends on the ego that Guardiola has. If he allows himself to be bigger than Haaland or not. He didn’t allow me or the others to be as big.”
Haaland has missed his side’s past two games with a foot problem but returned to training on Thursday in advance of Fulham’s visit on Saturday. “He’s much better,” Guardiola said. “We will decide today [Friday]. Train this afternoon and will see. It will depend on himself, his opinion and doctor’s opinion – if he is good for 90 minutes or less.”
City are second with 29 points and Guardiola named the leaders, Arsenal, plus Tottenham, Chelsea, Newcastle, Manchester United and Liverpool as other title contenders.
Of Eddie Howe’s Newcastle side he said: “They have incredible physicality to the way they play and are playing one game a week. They are not playing in Europe and when this happens that’s a big advantage when you arrive in the last months. They have a good manager, top-class players, they have experienced ones – I imagine they are going to stay there for a long time.”
Clumsy-fingered fans of the Manchester City striker Erling Haaland are causing a headache for the Swedish tourist board, who claim a simple spelling mistake is ruining their attempts to market the delights of coastal county Halland.
Twitter posts in which the Norwegian striker’s name is spelt “Halland” rather than “Haaland” mean social media and search engine users trying to discover the area online are instead directed to endless posts about City’s prolific forward.
The problem has got so bad that Jimmy Sandberg, the Visit Halland director, has written an open letter pleading with fans of Haaland and journalists to spell his name correctly. “We are Halland. He is Haaland. The popularity of the football phenomenon is completely suffocating our online presence,” wrote Sandberg.
“To our despair, we now see that all of our efforts promoting Halland are rapidly being wiped away.”
According to Visit Halland’s website, the area is an “idyllic west coast province boasting a rich foodie culture and a wealth of outdoor activities, not least cycling and even surfing”. But instead of stunning photographs of the natural landscape those searching online find endless photos of Haaland, who has taken the Premier League by storm having scored 17 goals in his first 11 league games.
“Since Haaland arrived at Manchester City and scored all those goals, we have been overwhelmed by his presence in our hashtags and in search engines,” Sandberg told the BBC.
Manchester City have won five English Premier League titles since Manchester United’s last triumph in 2013 but the latter are still ahead in Asia. Compared with the famous red shirts, sightings of a City top have been relatively rare in the streets of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai over the years. It’s starting to change and in the world’s biggest continent the gap has been closing and now, thanks to Erling Haaland, it is closing quicker than ever.
In the late 90s and throughout the noughties, as the Premier League rocketed in popularity everywhere, United were dominant on the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-sung and off it with their commercial expertise. This combination brought in fans in new markets such as China, South Korea, Japan and India.
Now the story is of United’s decline contrasted with City’s success and a growing following in Asia. While Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero and David Silva are, or have been, world-class, for the first time City have a genuine global megastar in their Norwegian striker. Asian fans of European clubs are often perceived to be more interested in individual players rather than teams and flock to those that win and turn their backs on those that don’t. Haaland helps on both counts.
Liverpool-supporting Thanamahamongkhol Kritikorn of Sporting News Thailand has seen nothing like it. “He’s too good to be hated and even other clubs’ fans respect him,” he says. “His popularity is now more than that of a mere athlete and even girls who don’t watch football are asking, ‘Who is this guy?’”
Local City fans agree. “This year, there are a lot of people wearing City jerseys on the streets of Bangkok,” says the Thailand-based Chutidet Prasarnsange. “You can’t buy the shirt as easily as you could before and those who do buy it all need Haaland’s name on the back.”
That is what 20 goals in 14 games does. “Thai City fans expected Haaland to be a great player who would lift the team but we didn’t expect he could make such an impact and become an icon this fast. He’s a phenomenon.
“All media, all platforms and even other team football fan pages are talking about him. My non-City-supporting friends want to watch City’s games just because of Haaland. He’s everywhere on social media and in a positive way.”
There is a similar story not far to the west in India. “Haaland has pulled plenty into the Indian fanbase, and will continue doing so … he has been celebrated in the Indian sports media.” says Jaidev Tripathy from the Manchester City Delhi Supporters Club. Tripathy claims that City’s new star is ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in shirt popularity in India. “The demand for Haaland jerseys is high.”
Ian Kwek of Puma Southeast Asia says there has been a marked increase in sales of Manchester City shirts since last year. “In terms of Haaland’s name-set there has been a very positive response in sales. Based on feedback from our specialist football stores … Man City has been growing in recent years and has been competitive in building its presence against other clubs in the league.”
In China, United are out in front on Weibo, a Twitter-like site and a well-used if crude metric, with 11m followers and Chelsea and Barcelona are close behind. City, however, are fourth with 9.25m, double that of Real Madrid and Liverpool. Haaland is big news there and his own standing has been increased by his move from the Bundesliga to a league with a greater global presence creating a vicious or virtuous cycle, depending on who you support.
“Haaland has generated lots of topics on Chinese social media, and Man City and the Premier League’s platform have helped Haaland gain followers in China,” says Beijing-based consultant Bi Yuan.
In Asia, any misgivings about where the money that has turned City into a global player has come from are rarely heard. Indeed, the Abu Dhabi-funded City Football Group’s worldwide stable of clubs is seen as an advantage with excitement whenever a new takeover is rumoured. In India, Mumbai City have become a force and Yokohama F Marinos are close to the Japanese title. In 2019, third-tier Sichuan Jiuniu were taken over, a Chengdu-based team with huge potential that now has their sights on the Chinese Super League.
These are long-term developments but if Haaland can lead City to new heights on the pitch, the same will happen off it. “They need to keep winning,” says Bi. “This will increase the number of young fans they have attracted in the past few years and this, in the near future, will make them the most popular team in China as most Manchester United fans get older. The real driver for City’s popularity will be winning the Champions League.”
With Haaland leading the attack, the trophy looks closer than ever in Europe – and in Asia, so do Manchester United.
Manchester City pushed hard to sign Harry Kane last year. Following the departure of Sergio Agüero to Barcelona, City wanted a new striker to fill the void in their frontline. Tottenham, though, did not budge in their demand that City pay £150m for the England captain. Kane wanted to go, but City did not up their offer and he remained at Spurs. The lack of a natural striker did not hold back City, who retained their Premier League title last season while scoring more goals (99) than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues.
So, of course City went out and signed goal machine Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund this summer. The Norwegian has wasted no time in acclimatising to the demands of Premier League football. In nine appearances, Haaland has scored 15 league goals – more than Manchester United, Chelsea and 11 other teams in the Premier League. Since the start of last season, only Kevin De Bruyne (16) has scored more league goals for City.
City’s failure to sign Kane was a sliding doors moment for both strikers. Fast forward a year and the Spurs forward is now chasing Haaland in the race for the golden boot. There has been plenty of focus on the 22-year-old and deservedly so given his incredible start to the season, yet his goals have meant Kane’s own performances this season have gone under the radar.
His first-half strike in Tottenham’s 1-0 win at Brighton on Saturday evening was his eighth goal in nine league games this season. Kane has scored in his last four league games – the joint-longest scoring streak of his career in the Premier League. His goal against Brighton was his 191st in the Premier League. He has overtaken Agüero (184) and Andy Cole (187) this season in the all-time list of top Premier League goalscorers, and now has just Wayne Rooney (208) and Alan Shearer (260) left to conquer.
What’s all the more commendable is that Kane has scored eight goals this season despite not really hitting the heights of previous campaigns. In recent years Spurs have tended to start slowly before building momentum around November in time for the gruelling festive period. The fact that Spurs are third in the table having not really played well, bar certain periods in comfortable wins over Southampton and Leicester, speaks volumes of the winning mentality instilled by Antonio Conte. To be four points off top spot despite not hitting their full potential shows their newfound resolve.
This is perhaps epitomised best by Kane’s goal record at this stage of the campaign. He hasn’t been as poor as Son Heung-min, but even Kane has not been at his best in the opening weeks of the season – yet he is Haaland’s closest competitor for the golden boot. City are playing sensational football and Haaland is scoring by the bucketload – if he continues at his current rate, the Norwegian will break Dixie Dean’s all-time record of 60 goals in a single top-flight season – but Kane’s numbers are still impressive. He is scoring a goal every 100 minutes this season while playing in a Spurs side that looks like it is stuck in second gear.
His winner at the weekend was a case in point. Conte’s side had to dig in against Brighton to secure all three points and become the first away side to win at the Amex since … Spurs won at the Amex in March. Kane’s instinctive finish was enough to separate the two sides. The versatility of his finishing means that, even when Spurs are playing poorly, Kane can still conjure up a moment of magic that makes the difference between one point and three. Kane has only been presented with nine clearcut chances this season and he has scored seven of them. Given his previous slow starts and the timing of the World Cup this year, Gareth Southgate must be delighted.
Kane’s goalscoring is so consistent that it has become normal and even gone under the radar. He has scored at least 15 goals in each of his last eight league campaigns, and he is more than halfway to reaching that milestone again this season. With the spotlight now firmly on Haaland, Kane is quietly sneaking up the goalscoring charts. Whether playing up front alone or with a partner – as he did against Brighton in a 3-5-2 – Kane guarantees goals, and with the pressure currently off, chances are he will remain Haaland’s closest threat to the golden boot.
If a 20-goal season is the recognised mark of success for any striker then Erling Haaland reaching the tally after 12 competitive appearances casts him as football’s Jonah Lomu.
The 22-year-old is unstoppable, his finishing ratio is staggering – one Premier League goal delivered every 50 minutes – and the fascination is where the Norwegian may take his talent over the coming seasons.
Until the 64th minute Southampton, 3-0 down and steamrollered by City, appeared to be heading to join Bournemouth and Serbia as the only teams to keep out the prolific marksman. But, no. Kevin De Bruyne, excellent throughout, angled a ball to João Cancelo down the left and his delivery was rammed in by Haaland.
The win takes City top on 23 points after nine matches, with Arsenal, who play Liverpool on Sunday, second on 21.
“Being close to the top of the league is important going into the World Cup,” Pep Guardiola said. “We will see the result from Arsenal and Liverpool, always in the Premier League there are good games.”
Kyle Walker’s groin injury meant a Guardiola rejig – he is partial to these – which featured an impressive Manuel Akanji operating at right‑back though the Swiss soon drew a manager’s mutter for an errant pass.
Ralph Hasenhüttl, who seems perennially in danger of the sack, could be pleased with some early Saints pressure but it soon ended. From his familiar left flank Foden served the ball into Haaland’s path: the shot was instant and with his right foot but the ball smacked off the right post. Next, Cancelo claimed a corner which De Bruyne dipped in from the left but Mahrez’s effort careered over.
Cancelo, now, showed how to do it via superb solo strike. Foden was flattened by Kyle Walker-Peters but Andy Madley, smartly, allowed the game to flow. City’s left-back skated along his wing, zipped inside, sold James Ward‑Prowse a double-dummy, then drilled across Bazunu into the far corner.
“We’ve got Guardiola,” sang jubilant City fans who are so used to their team cruising. Next came Saints being taunted as the ball was stabbed about them before those in blue glimpsed an opening and suddenly Haaland’s cannon of a left foot was smashing a shot into Romain Perraud from close range.
The half ended with Akanji’s wild attempt sailing over Bazunu’s bar but City had coasted serenely in second gear and continued to do so after the break, Southampton remaining extras in the contest.
A De Bruyne surge – he tried to find Haaland at the end – then one from Bernardo Silva preceded City’s third: Cancelo rolled to Rodri and from his lob to the right Mahrez volleyed – off the ground – in.
It made a ninth successive Premier League home outing of at least three goals for City and was followed by a Haaland miss and the sight of the coach unhappy at a defensive mistake.
Foden, who was about to be replaced with Jack Grealish, helped to create another chance for the Norwegian with quick feet that had him escaping near the left corner flag and passing to De Bryune. When the latter crossed, Haaland kicked only air.
The 22-year-old was, again, set up by the Belgian whose vision this time steered the ball through an inside‑left channel. Haaland galloped forward and tried to round Bazunu, the keeper stuck out a hand and took possession.
Haaland did register to the delight of player, teammates, manager and supporters: expect to see endless repeats of the act until May.
Mahrez said: “Haaland is part of our team, he is our striker. Like any other striker, if we can find him it’s perfect because he is on fire. If not, there are a lot of [other] players and everyone can make a difference.
“It was a difficult game, we made it easy by scoring early and then we controlled. We had a lot of chances to score more but we didn’t.”
Hasenhüttl was honest in his appraisal. “Our possession was not good enough. To get something you need to play the perfect game. The gap is too big. Teams come here with more quality than we have and concede six goals or more,” he said.
Don’t fear the goal-reaper. Or at least, not while we still have this show. Perhaps the only frustration in watching Erling Haaland this season, the only minor gripe in this more-ish spectacular, is that he isn’t available to binge-watch all at once on demand.
Each time Haaland walks off the pitch it is genuinely upsetting to realise once again that a scrolling ticker will not be appearing in the corner of your vision saying: “Next episode in 10 seconds,” complete with a button you can click impatiently when 10 seconds feels too long. For now it is necessary to wait for the next hit, 3pm on Saturday when Manchester City play Southampton, and when he can once again resume the clean, crisp, beautifully sunlit business of being Erling Haaland.
After that rusty showing in the Community Shield there were some all-knowing observers, this page included, who warned this would take time, that it would be a case of finding a way to fit in. And we were 100% right. It did take time. It took one game. Which is still, technically, time. In reality that afternoon has faded into nothing. What we have instead is something utterly new, a kind of perpetual-motion-football, a substance without edges or drag, an endless conveyor belt of homogenised high-spec product. Basically, I just want more numbers, more Haaland maths. Everyone loves this stuff. A goal every eight passes. A goal every 47 minutes. A 79-goal league season on current rates! Although I am worried that Anfield next weekend may slightly deplete his average. Should City rest him?
Beyond the numbers it is the way Haaland makes you feel that is most striking. We have seen brilliant players before. The difference here is the sense of something uncanny taking place. What does Haaland look like out there anyway? Like the world’s smallest, perfectly formed giant. Like the all-powerful warrior god of the dolphins. Like the feeling of leaping two-footed into a prize-winning sandcastle, fed into a gene-splicing machine and then transformed into a footballer.
Mainly, though, there is that sense of “othering”. A petition stating Haaland should be removed from the Premier League because he is in fact a robot has already drawn 1.8m signatures. The suggestion seems to be that we’re going to cut across a little too quickly and catch him soldering on his own arm or drinking a bottle of metal. But is he a robot? Because I’m also hearing monster, alien, cyborg. I’m hearing creature of the forests. I’m hearing ravenous Nordic goal-yeti.
Clearly what this is really about is fear of change, fear of the paradigm shift. All sport tends towards perfection. Pretty soon someone is going to score a hundred off 17 balls in cricket and that will be cricket pretty much done. Football has resisted that process for now because it contains so many human variables. Chuck what you like at it, this thing won’t be tamed or made predictable.
Or will it? Against Copenhagen on Wednesday Haaland produced almost the perfect 45-minute game. He had 11 touches. Four of them were shots (all on target). Three were completed passes. One was a tackle, one being fouled, one an “unsafe touch”.
That made 10, plus one ghost touch. It is tempting to brood over that missing touch, raw, untempered Haaland, out there existing beyond the lines, to see human hope here, John Connor stirring in the rubble.
But how long before the perfect game happens? And then happens again? Where does this leave the old certainties? Is Alan Shearer still good? Is the thing that was my thing still real? It is tempting to wonder whether Pep Guardiola can feel this too, out there on his touchline looking a little odd, dancing and talking to the crowd, a man who finds himself suddenly behind the wheel of a self-driving car.
It turns out after all that manic hands-on engagement, the new tactical forms, that this is the way to do it: a great pounding goal-fist up front and Guardiola reduced from the hands and the brain of his team to the managerial equivalent of hovering near the self‑checkout tills in case anyone needs a bag. Perhaps he can he get City to the Champions League final then drop Haaland and play three false 9s just to feel something again. Is this what the fear is about?
None of this is fair of course, or accurate, or particularly serious. Haaland is not actually Skynet. He is simply a brilliant, level-headed young player, as others have been in the past. He is in the hands of a brilliant coach, given more resources, more backup, better data and diet, more intensive coaching than any other in history. Little wonder what emerges is something sublime and also annihilating.
This is more complex than simply bolting on a great scything goal blade. Haaland has made the other parts of this team work better, has provided Kevin De Bruyne with an assist-muse. He has also improved his own game, and not just in passing and movement. Even with City’s resources it is a serious feat of coaching and refinement to get this good.
And yet there is also something in that fear, something more general. If this City team have an uncanny quality, it lies in the fact they resemble more than any other (Paris Saint-Germain still look like a team assembled by a five-year-old megalomaniac) the concept of the super-club; and beyond that of billionaire-ball, sport as a place where failure, the jeopardy of actual sporting competition, is incompatible with the business or PR plan.
It is the paradox of the nation-state project club. Here are a team so well put together, so free of commercial anxiety, that they have the capacity to take this sport away and put it in their pocket. Which is nevertheless a thing of genuine beauty to be treasured. Elite football has been yanking away at those restraints trying to become this thing. Well, here it is. Just sit back and keep counting the goals.
You could say that Erling Haaland has hit the ground running. He has broken a few records already while dispelling any doubts about how quickly he would acclimatise to the rigours of the Premier League.
Haaland started slowly. He failed to make any impression in the Community Shield against Liverpool in July and was overshadowed by another debutant, Darwin Núñez, who came off the bench for Liverpool with 30 minutes remaining, won a penalty and scored a goal, prompting the feeling that he might adapt more quickly to his new environment.
After the Community Shield it looked like Haaland might need some time to fit into City’s style of play and English football. He was criticised for his lack of involvement in the first half of that game, in which he mustered just eight touches – the fewest of any outfield player – and was mocked for hitting the bar from six yards out in the last minute of the match. Pep Guardiola even felt the need to defend his recent purchase: “It is good for him to see the reality in a new country and a new league, but he was there,” said the City manager. “He didn’t score. He has incredible quality and he will do it.”
Nine weeks on and that prediction has proved to be spot on: Haaland has indeed done it. He swept away any fears of a slow start in the league by scoring twice against West Ham in City’s first match of the season then scored a further seven times in his next four games, breaking the record – previously shared by Sergio Agüero and Micky Quinn – for the most goals scored in a player’s first five games in the competition. The league’s all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer, needed nine matches to score his first seven; Harry Kane required 18.
Three goals against Manchester United on Sunday means that Haaland has scored 14 in his first eight Premier League matches, which includes the unique achievement of consecutive hat-tricks in three home league games. Even before the derby, the Norwegian had joined a select group of players to have scored hat-tricks in successive Premier League matches.
Les Ferdinand was the first, doing it for QPR against Nottingham Forest on 10 April 1993, then again against Everton just two days later. Others who have done likewise include Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Ian Wright and Harry Kane – who is the only player to have done it twice, against Leicester and Hull in May 2017, and against Burnley and Southampton seven months later. Kane has not scored a league hat-trick since then.
In that time, there have been 58 Premier League hat-tricks, 19 of them scored by Manchester City players. In fact, in the last five years, City have racked up more than the combined total of Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, who have amassed 16 between them. For individual hat-tricks in the last five years, only Agüero with six, and Raheem Sterling and Salah with four each, have scored more than Haaland. The Norwegian’s tally of three so far this season is as many as Drogba, Jamie Vardy, Robbie Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo have achieved in their entire Premier League careers.
Haaland has also obliterated another record. Previously, Michael Owen held the record for the fewest games required to score three hat-tricks. Owen made his Premier League debut in May 1997, scored his first hat-trick in his 28th appearance, and reached three hat-tricks in his 48th league game. What took Owen 18 months has taken Haaland eight weeks.
If Haaland continues at his current rate of 1.75 goals per game, he will rack up 66 goals this season, almost doubling the existing Premier League record of 34 that was set by Andy Cole in 1993-94 and matched by Shearer the following year. Such a phenomenal rate of scoring also brings into reach a record that had previously seemed insurmountable: the all-time top-flight record of 60 goals set by Dixie Dean for Everton in 1927-28, a 42-match season. If Haaland keeps scoring hat-tricks at this frequency, he will break Agüero’s record of 12 in the Premier League – which he set over the course of a decade – by the end of April.
Haaland has already broken another record, which was held by Alan Shearer. The Englishman scored three hat-tricks in the space of 10 matches between November 1994 and February 1995; Haaland has sliced that milestone in half. The Norwegian has another one of Shearer’s records in his sights. Shearer scored five hat-tricks for Blackburn in the 1995-96 season, which remains a record for a single campaign. Haaland is more than halfway to that number already with 31 games to play this season – and he will take a four-week rest while many of his opponents are in Qatar for the World Cup.
As for his fellow countrymen, Haaland has surpassed Steffen Iversen and Josh King, who both scored two hat-tricks in the Premier League, and matched Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who scored three in his 235 Premier League appearances. Haaland is now just four goals shy of his father’s total of 18 goals in the Premier League, which took him 181 appearances. It’s safe to say he will become the most prolific member of the family before too long.
Like Haaland, Núñez also scored on his Premier League debut, against Fulham on the opening weekend of the season. When the campaign began, the two newcomers looked likely to be challenging each other for the golden boot. However, since that opening weekend, Liverpool’s summer signing from Benfica has hardly featured in the league, collecting as many red cards as goals. But Núñez is not alone in trailing behind Haaland. If the prolific 22-year-old stays at City long enough, every Premier League striker past and present may be overshadowed by his achievements.
Pep Guardiola has knocked back suggestions Erling Haaland has a release clause in his Manchester City contract that would allow him to join Real Madrid for a fixed fee, before admitting he does not know whether an abdominal injury sustained by the defender Kyle Walker could be severe enough to rule him out of the World Cup next month.
Reports from Spain in the run-up to City’s 5-0 Champions League victory against Copenhagen on Wednesday – in which Haaland scored twice to take his incredible tally this season to 19 in just 12 matches – suggested Madrid could sign Haaland for €200m in 2024, or €175m in 2025, as per the terms of the contract he signed with City this year.
But, speaking after the win which moved City to the cusp of the knockout stages with three games still to play, Guardiola denied that was the case. “It’s not true,” he said. “He has no release clause for Real Madrid or any other team. It’s not true, what can I say? I have the feeling he is incredibly happy here and we will try to make him happy.
“You cannot worry about the rumours, we have to worry about what we can control.”
Haaland was substituted at half‑time to preserve him for a hectic fixture period in the buildup to the World Cup, which starts in six weeks. But it appears Walker’s availability for England is in doubt after Guardiola said he was unsure whether the injury which forced the defender from the field during the first half of the Manchester derby on Sunday could result in him missing the tournament.
“I don’t know,” Guardiola said when asked about the extent of Walker’s injury. “It’s something abdominal, it may be a while. I know how important the World Cup is for the players but he has an abdominal injury. It will be weeks.”
The news would be a major setback for Gareth Southgate, with Walker almost certain to start for England in Qatar if fit and available. England begin their World Cup campaign with a group‑stage clash against Iran on 21 November, before subsequent games against USA and Wales. Walker’s absence would leave Southgate with a significant hole in his defence to fill.
Socceroos captain Mat Ryan is bracing himself for the toughest task in football – trying to stop the goalscoring machine that is Erling Haaland.
FC Copenhagen’s Australian goalkeeper, who never found Manchester City the easiest opposition, will have his work cut out in the Danish side’s Champions League tie at the Etihad Stadium against the 22-year-old Norwegian.
Fresh from his latest hat-trick in the weekend’s 6-3 derby defeat of Manchester United, Haaland is expected to be on the pitch against on Thursday morning AEDT as he seeks to add to the 17 goals already scored for City in 11 appearances.
And after his third treble in successive home matches, Ryan will provide the last line of defence for the Danish Superliga champions.
Ryan moved to Denmark this season after a brief spell in Spain but knows all about the perils of facing City, against whom he conceded 21 goals in seven Premier League matches when at Brighton.
The 30-year-old World Cup-bound keeper has settled in well at his new club and enjoyed a clean sheet at the weekend in a win over Aarhus but is now facing a player who City manager Pep Guardiola says “at his age, no one can compete with him.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Guardiola saud. “And inside, in the locker room, and on the pitch, we see things that are not in the stats that make us feel happy to have him here.”
Haaland averages a goal every 54 minutes for City, with 42 shots and three assists, two of which came alongside his hat-trick in Sunday’s derby win.
Against Copenhagen he will seek to add to his 26 Champions League goals from 21 matches.
Haaland is just the start of Jacob Neestrup’s worries after the Copenhagen manager lost his captain Zeca for the season to a serious knee injury.
“Haaland is obviously one of the best strikers in the world at the moment – if not the best – and we will do what we can to limit his possibilities,” said Neestrup.
“But there are also 10 other players we will need to be aware of. People talk about their big names but I am more impressed by them collectively.”