Could Erling Haaland to Real Madrid still happen?

Not so long ago, those at the Santiago Bernabeu imagined Erling Haaland playing in a crucial Champions League game at Real Madrid – but not how it went last week.

When the Norway international entered the Bernabeu pitch for the first leg of the teams’ semi-final, he did so wearing a Manchester City shirt. Haaland’s goalscoring exploits meant the focus was firmly on him heading into kick-off, but the 52-goal striker was strangely ineffective on the night.

That didn’t stop his name from making headlines. In the stands, Erling’s father Alf-Inge was filmed being escorted from his VIP seat after he appeared to anger Madrid supporters. The former Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and City player said home fans were ‘unhappy’ with his celebrations for Kevin De Bruyne’s equalizer but denied suggestions he threw peanuts at them .

It was a bizarre incident but one that doesn’t change Madrid’s long-standing interest in Haaland. Because that dream some at Real had of seeing Haaland play for their club hasn’t completely gone away – and neither has the 22-year-old’s desire to join Europe’s most decorated team one day.

Several sources – who, like the others quoted in this article, preferred to remain anonymous to protect their position – dismissed reports that Haaland could join Madrid this summer as nonsense. But Real are still keeping tabs on the striker in case the short-to-medium term scenario allows them to make a move for him, even as City prepare to offer him a new contract.


What does Haaland really look like?

With Haaland set to face Madrid again tomorrow (Wednesday), here’s the state of play…

Madrid scouts started watching Haaland when he played for 2019-20 Red Bull Salzburg. The striker scored 29 goals in 27 appearances for the Austrian side but Real thought it was too early to act on his behalf. Haaland agreed to join Borussia Dortmund instead in December 2019, aided by his agent, the late Mino Raiola.

Raiola played an important role in Haaland’s career. He was primarily responsible for inserting a relatively low exit clause into the Dortmund striker’s contract allowing him and his family to choose their next step. It was something they wanted to continue throughout his career.

Madrid haven’t forgotten about Haaland. In July 2021, when rumors swirled that Chelsea were interested in signing the striker, a senior Real figure called an equally influential counterpart at Dortmund to see if it was true. They confirmed the English club’s interest but added that Haaland would not be sold for any amount that summer.

Haaland was ineffective against Madrid (Photo: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images).

Real were focused on their main transfer target, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe. But in February last year, chief scout Juni Calafat traveled to Monaco to meet Haaland’s entourage. Mbappe was aware of this meeting and asked those who were aware of the talks about Haaland’s chances of signing for Madrid. Privately, Mbappe’s entourage said he would be open to playing alongside Haaland, but the fact the French striker asked seemed to suggest he was worried by the prospect.


Real Madrid, Mbappe and the story that will not pass. Get ready for more smoke and mirrors

Madrid were still in the hunt for Haaland, although he later denied his interest. They were front-runners for the Norwegian with City, while Bayern Munich were seen as the dark horse for his signature.

Haaland had repeatedly told others in the Dortmund dressing room that he wanted to play for Madrid. But he was also concerned about Karim Benzema’s impressive form and Mbappe’s possible signing – which was seen as very likely at the time. Benzema and Mbappe could take the spotlight away from him in terms of media coverage, minutes and importance to the team.

At the same time, City were progressing well with Haaland’s side. Back in March, their only concern was what would happen if Madrid failed to sign Mbappe, fearing they would relaunch Haaland. In the end, Real were left with no players after Mbappe renewed his contract at PSG last summer.

City’s strategy for Haaland has been led by general manager Omar Berrada and sporting director Txiki Begiristain. They managed to earn the trust of Alf-Inge, Raiola and, when the agent fell ill and died in April 2022, his replacement Rafaela Pimenta. It was Begiristain who pointed out to Haaland and his family the risks of him joining Madrid given Benzema’s fine performances and the expected signing of Mbappe.

Haaland joined City last summer (Photo: Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images).

Haaland therefore chose City and his signing was completed in June last year – but he still retains control of his future. Sources familiar with the striker’s contract say he could leave for €200m (£174m; $217m) in 2024 or €175m in 2025, with both clauses reserved for non-Premier League clubs and subject to various conditions.


Man City prepare to offer Erling Haaland a new contract

Madrid’s first reaction upon learning of these release clauses was disbelief. They are still watching Haaland’s development closely and those at Real’s Valdebebas training ground recall how impressed Alf-Inge was when he visited the club’s facilities alongside Raiola in April 2021.

Real believe they have been overtaken by Premier League clubs and Paris Saint-Germain in terms of financial might. But they are still keen on signing the best players in the world and, until this season, they considered three of them to be at the top: Mbappe, Haaland and Benzema. Vinicius Junior has now joined this select group after a campaign in which he scored 23 goals and provided 21 assists in all competitions.

The two members of this list who are not in Madrid are still the subject of serious interest. Asked about possible signings in February, a coaching source’s response was instructive: ‘There are always two names: Haaland and Mbappe.

The scenes with senior Haaland last Tuesday don’t seem to have changed things. Asked about the incident with Alf-Inge, Madrid preferred not to comment to protect relations and dismissed it as media gossip. Likewise, Haaland’s entourage say anything related to the striker is considered newsworthy these days.

It’s in both parties’ interest to keep things cordial, especially since they might still join forces in the future. For now, they will be on opposite sides of the split when City host Real on Wednesday night.

(Top photos: Michael Regan, Mateo Villalba via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

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