Editor’s note: This feature has been updated with the latest on Haaland’s father and agent meeting with Real Madrid and Barcelona on April 1.
Borussia Dortmund have some of the best young players in European football, but for how much longer? The next few weeks will be crucial in their quest to hold on to the likes of Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna as failure to secure Champions League football for next season would have serious implications on their careers.
Dortmund sit in fifth place in the Bundesliga, four points below Eintracht Frankfurt — who they play on Saturday (stream live on ESPN+ at 9.30 a.m. ET) — and failure to win would further dent their chances of qualifying. Next week, Dortmund also face Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals in a match that has been billed by many as an audition for Haaland’s next club. They are under pressure having won only one of their last four games in all competitions.
Over the summer, Dortmund managed to keep Sancho amid interest from Manchester United as they held out for a transfer fee of €120 million, and they have adopted a similar ploy by placing a €180m price tag on Haaland’s contract, according to ESPN sources.
And Thursday revealed the development of Haaland’s father, Alf-Inge Haaland, and agent Mino Raiola holding talks with Real Madrid and Barcelona over a possible transfer for the superstar forward.
The club will need to raise funds as they have struggled financially in the COVID-19 pandemic and are expecting losses of €75m, though Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Bild: “Nobody needs to worry about us. No matter if we play Champions League or Europa Conference League next season, the ongoing and the next season are already fully financed. To return to the pre-pandemic status quo will take us four, five years. But compared to other clubs who have been hit harder by the coronavirus crisis, we are doing okay.”
Still, there are two soccer truths: 1) Dortmund produce top players, and 2) Then they leave. So how likely is it that the next generation of stars are still with the club next season?
Ian Darke says he understands why Dortmund are playing hardball in trying to keep hold of Erling Haaland.
Even with Lionel Messi approaching the end of his Barcelona contract this summer and Cristiano Ronaldo’s career at Juventus being cast into doubt, the long-term future of Haaland is still the biggest talking point in world football.
Just over a year on from breaking out in the Bundesliga following a bargain €20m move from FC Salzburg in January 2020, the Norway international has developed into a complete centre-forward. Haaland’s extreme physical power, pace and vicious left foot is backed up by an ever-improving hold-up game, ability to take part in quick, neat, one-touch exchanges in the last third, and a finishing ability that sometimes borders on the ridiculous.
Is he likely to move in the summer? Possibly, though it’s less a question of where he’d fit in as who can afford him. Sources told ESPN that at €180m, there will be few takers in the current financial climate, but in 2022 he has a reported release clause of €75m kicking in which could see a scramble for his services.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive and is the former chief executive and sporting director at AS Monaco. He will write regularly for ESPN on the business of soccer and the process of scouting.
Haaland’s father, Alf-Inge Haaland, and agent Mino Raiola held talks on Thursday with Barcelona and Real Madrid over a possible transfer for Haaland. The lure of either club is tempting for any footballer and, though the financially challenged Spanish giants may not be able to afford to offer the best wages anymore, they often tend to come up with the resources if they really want to sign a player.
At Barcelona in particular, talks have started and a squad clear out including the departure of Messi would free up some capital, though of course they would not be as attractive a proposition without him to play alongside and have struggled to gel with a strong target man (Zlatan Ibrahimovic, anyone?) before. Madrid, meanwhile, would favour PSG forward Kylian Mbappe to replace Karim Benzema long term, but may find Haaland a cheaper and better option.
Haaland’s core attributes and playing style may find him better suited to the English Premier League over La Liga at this point in his career. Born in Leeds and with his father, Alf Inge, playing close to 200 games for Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Man City, the lure of England is clear. And Manchester in particular.
– Teng: Why Haaland can become the world’s best
City will have a space to fill this summer with the exit of Sergio Aguero, who is to leave the club on a free transfer, and also have the financial power to make a deal happen; United hold the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer connection as Haaland may favour a reunion with his former coach from his time at Molde. Futhermore, Solskjaer’s space exploiting, energy driven, more direct football style could suit him the most.
Of course, the most exciting young forward in the world could fit in at any club and if Dortmund fail to seal Champions League football, he may have the pick of them.
Who could Dortmund replace him with if he goes? Patson Daka, 22, FC Salzburg — An excellent finisher whose power makes him a real handful for defenders. Strong one-on-one and able to create opportunities on his own, the Zambia international has an outstanding goal-scoring record for club (27 goals in 31 games) and country (four goals in two games) this season. Salzburg revisited?
Dortmund have a fine collection of young stars. Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
Having started the campaign quietly, the murmurs of discontent began to surface over Sancho’s commitment to Dortmund. Had his motivation dropped following his failure to seal a move to Manchester United? Watzke even said he feared that the winger had “subconsciously” left the club.
But six goals and six assists in his last 10 Bundesliga games marked a turnaround, while his productivity, energy and brilliant off-the-ball movement finally reached the level of last season’s mesmerising performances again. Sadly, the England international picked up an ankle injury just as he was starting to recapture his form and will likely miss the Champions League clash with City (the club that let him join Dortmund for around €11m in 2017). But he’s now showing that he is one of the best young players in the game once more.
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access
Is he likely to move in the summer? Yes. Despite some adverse form and injuries, Sancho’s ability to play on either side of the attack as well as through the middle makes him stand out. In addition to his versatility, his speed, sharpness in small spaces and excellent one-on-one dribbling — combined with the vision and the “geometrical mind” of an advanced playmaker — mean every top club in Europe is keen on him.
While Man United have exciting teenage options such as Amad Diallo and Mason Greenwood out wide, you can apply the same logic to the signing of Sancho as you would with Haaland: If the chance of signing such a quality young player arises, you take it and adjust tactically.
Paris Saint-Germain are also looking to strengthen their attack and could be interested if they lose Mbappe, or possibly Neymar, amid new contract negotiations. Sancho is capable of causing havoc like few others, so a move to anywhere else than the top clubs in the world is out of the question.
Who could Dortmund replace him with if he goes? Noa Lang, 21, Ajax — The skillful winger, a Dutch youth international, can operate on either side and he is as sound a finisher as he’s a provider. Currently on loan at Club Brugge.
Giovanni Reyna is key to the United States’ future. Getty
If you take into account that the American doesn’t turn 19 before November, it’s fair to say that his development is well ahead of schedule. This season, Reyna has started 17 Bundesliga games and has also started the last four (scoring two goals) for the USMNT.
– Borden: Reyna is U.S.’s next superstar
While already on the brink of being considered a regular at club level, Reyna’s next step is to find consistency and make a continuous impact over 90 minutes. He is certainly being watched by a number of clubs, including Barcelona and Real Madrid according to ESPN sources, but may need to develop more before his big move comes.
Is he likely to move in the summer? No. There’s no reason for the midfielder to leave the Westfalenstadion. In fact, the potential departure of Sancho may pave the way for Reyna to take up an even more central role in the attacking plans of new head coach Marco Rose.
Who could Dortmund replace him with if he goes? Charles De Ketelaere, 20, Club Brugge — A versatile attacking player who can operate in practically every role from central midfielder to centre forward. A highly creative and intelligent player who is already a full Belgium international.
Janusz Michallik believes Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala are two players to watch next season.
As much as Bellingham’s talent at Birmingham City was no secret, even the Dortmund sporting hierarchy are said to be surprised by how quickly the midfielder has settled into the Bundesliga. Fresh from winning his first England senior cap in November — he also came on at half-time against San Marino last week — Bellingham is looking to make his ninth Champions League appearance in the game against Man City.
A central midfielder so well-rounded that it’s hard to find an equal born after the turn of the century, he’s excellent in possession, hard to dispossess but also, with his outstanding ball-carrying abilities, very useful in transitional play.
Is he likely to move in the summer? No. While there’s no shortage of clubs drooling over the prospect of picking up this potential world-beater of a central midfielder (or even regretting not having been the first movers last summer), next season is all about further development for Bellingham.
Who could Dortmund replace him with if he goes? Isak Bergmann Sigurdsson, 18, Norrkoping — The Iceland international is already close to being the complete central midfielder and he’s remarkably developed for his age. Possesses all the requirements — physically, tactically and mentally — to succeed in the Bundesliga after impressing in Sweden.
It’s not often a professional club at any level are restrained from handing a player his debut by law. But Dortmund had to wait for the teenage sensation to turn 16 before giving him his eagerly awaited first taste of Bundesliga action — one day after his 16th birthday last November.
Since then, Moukoko has also broken the record for the youngest ever goal scorer in the German top flight. The precocious forward, whose overall game is nearly as impressive as his change of pace and left-footed finishing, is perhaps the most talked-about teenager in the game now that Haaland has turned 20.
Is he likely to move in the summer? No. Just as a possible departure for Sancho could aid Reyna’s development, Moukoko might end up seeing more playing time if Haaland were to move on in the summer (though, at just 16, he’s still so young that Dortmund might even be forced to sign another, more experienced forward as a “bridge” between the two prodigies). Moukoko can be safe in the knowledge that there’s no better place to further his development than where he is now.
Who could Dortmund replace him with if he goes? Aleksander Buksa, 18, Wisla Krakow — Dortmund have recruited well from Poland before and the left-footed Wisla centre-forward, capped to under-17 level, is one of the most exciting attackers to emerge from the country since Robert Lewandowski.