One of the world’s most promising teenage talents has left Austria for Germany despite being coveted by the Red Devils
The winter transfer window has not opened yet but already one of Europe’s top teenage talents has found a new club after being at the centre of a tug-of-war.
Erling Braut Haaland has taken the Champions League by storm, becoming the first teenager to score in five consecutive games in the competition. However, despite the Norwegian’s eight goals in six group games, Red Bull Salzburg were unable to reach the knockout stage of the tournament.
Salzburg finished third behind Liverpool and Napoli, ensuring European football in the spring as they drop into the Europa League, but Haaland will continue in the Champions League after joining Borussia Dortmund for €20 million (£17m/$22m).
The Bundesliga club faced stiff competition from RB Leipzig and Manchester United, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hoping Haaland would decide to stick with the Europa League, but at Old Trafford rather than at Salzburg.
“I don’t comment on those speculations,” Solskjaer said of the transfer talk. “He knows what he wants to do, and he knows what he’s going to do, so I don’t have to give any advice to any other team’s players.”
Many Red Devils fans were excited about the prospect of signing a player who has scored 28 goals in 22 games in all competitions this season, but a move to United at just 19 looked like the wrong decision for a player who has played less than 100 senior games in his career to date.
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Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund had initially claimed that he thought January would be too soon for Haaland to leave the club, but revealed the teenager travelled to Germany in early December to meet with both Leipzig and Dortmund.
“We are involved in all discussions,” Freund told reporters. “Of course, we knew that Haaland was in Leipzig and Dortmund.
“Everyone in Salzburg wants the best for him.”
What’s best for Haaland is a club where he could get plenty of regular game time in order to develop and help him reach his potential.
As a result, Borussia Dortmund is a much better fit for the teenager than Manchester United.
Old Trafford already has a talented teenage striker who will be breaking into the starting XI on a more regular basis.
Mason Greenwood is the Red Devils’ third-highest goalscorer this season with eight goals in all competitions. He has made just nine starts in 2019-20 under Solskjaer, with only two of those starts coming in the Premier League.
Solskjaer says a lot of positive things about developing young players and giving opportunities to academy graduates, but game time for teenagers is still more likely to come in the Carabao Cup and Europa League rather than the Premier League.
With United now in the knockout stage of the Europa League and pressure increasing on Solskjaer to secure Champions League football for next season, these opportunities may become more infrequent for young players.
At Dortmund, Haaland will have a much more straightforward path to the first team.
Paco Alcacer is the club’s main striker, but has struggled with injury throughout his career and has not completed a full 90 minutes this season since August.
As a result, Lucien Favre often has to play Marco Reus or Mario Gotze as a false nine, with no fit striker in the squad.
Haaland, then, will instantly fill a hole in the Dortmund attack.
He will not regret missing out on joining Manchester United at this stage of his career either.
A move to Old Trafford would more than likely have seen his name added to a long list of talented young signings who failed to make an impact after joining the Red Devils.
Memphis Depay scored just two league goals in his time with United despite being one of the hottest young prospects in Europe. He left after just 18 months, moving to Lyon, where he has been a huge success.
Even the players who stay at Old Trafford and weather the storm find it difficult to succeed.
Anthony Martial became the most expensive teenager when he moved from Monaco in 2015, but despite reaching 10 goals in 2019-20, has been inconsistent and was recently singled out for criticism by club legend Ryan Giggs.
“He is talented, and he’s not a bad kid, but the problem he has is that he looks lethargic all the time,” Giggs told the Premier League’s official website. “He looks casual, as if he’s not bothered.”
This is the kind of spotlight Haaland would have been under at Old Trafford. Game time would be limited but top-class performances expected every single week.
Haaland could undoubtedly be a brilliant player for United one day, but has joined the club which is best for his career right now by moving to Borussia Dortmund, where he is certain to play and develop.