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Haaland & loan return? Why Man Utd can't afford such luxury

COMMENT: You buy him for keeps, don't you? Especially if you're Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. All this talk of signing Erling Haaland - only to loan him back - doesn't make much sense given the Manchester United manager's recent comments.

Indeed, those long timers at Carrington have told this column that should the Haaland deal go through, there's an expectation around the place that the striker will be cutting all ties with RB Salzburg. There'll be no going back. No loan return. And you don't need any inside word to understand why - the manager has already spelt it out.

"We let Alexis and Romelu (Lukaku) go," Solskjaer stated earlier this season, "you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that it's a forward that next time we're going to recruit - we're looking for some creativity and goals."

Indeed, there's no need for "rocket science" with this one. If Haaland settles on United - it'll be for keeps. Solskjaer will insist. It wasn't so long ago that he was having to play Daniel James as some sort of false No9. Not due to any clever tactical plan - but out of sheer necessity. With Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial his only senior strikers, the Norwegian has had to juggle his resources. Even with the emergence of Mason Greenwood, the squad's short. United need a striker - and Haaland is the manager's first-choice.

In England, even in Norway, Solskjaer has been urged to rethink his plans. Former United striker Dimitar Berbatov worries that Haaland's arrival will upset the momentum of Martial and Rashford. Erik Thorstvedt, the former Tottenham goalkeeper, goes further, insisting a Haaland deal would be bad news for Greenwood.

But Haaland really isn't any threat. He's a different player to Greenwood. As he is when compared with Martial and Rashford. Yes, his highlights reel is full of goals taking advantage of his pace and direct running. But there's more to his game than playing off the shoulder.

At 6ft 4in, Haaland can also play with his back to goal. He offers Solskjaer an option no other player in his squad is capable of. For the moment, United are at their best playing off the break. Making the most of the pace of Rashford, James and Martial. Something Haaland's physical attributes will also allow him to dovetail into. But the Norwegian offers another avenue for those behind him. They can play the ball into Haaland, work themselves around him. Using the centre-forward as an option to play their way through a packed defence. It's something this United team are found lacking when dominating possession in games.

So is it a done deal? Not quite, but for United fans, it's looking good.

Solskjaer marked all our cards last week with his trip to Salzburg. While those at RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund were boasting about Haaland's willingness to jet to Germany to speak with them, Solskjaer went the opposite route. The United manager getting on a plane hours after victory in the Europa League over AZ Alkmaar to fly to Salzburg to meet with the Haaland family. If the 19 year-old does choose United, it'll be those little things that will have made the difference.

While it was a whistle-stop trip, this was nothing impromptu. Solskjaer was well across Haaland's two club tour of Germany earlier in the week. The United manager's agent, Jim Solbakken, is also part of the Haaland camp. Nothing happens without word getting to United's manager.

Mino Raiola does have an input - but there's nothing on paper. And it's a struggle to see how he can control any future move for Haaland, as is being claimed in today's English press. Alf-Inge Haaland, Erling's father, brought Raiola in as an adviser and one to open doors. But any move to United isn't going to fall through over fee demands from the proclaimed super agent.

And as for Alf-Inge, he also put claims to bed of his ties to Manchester City and Leeds United ending any chance of his son moving to Old Trafford. Just days before the Solskjaer visit, indeed almost pre-empting it, Alf-Inge insisted: "No, it's been 100 years since I played there (at City). Erling doesn't need that idea from me, he has to make his own, independent decisions.

"I know he has a good relationship with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has helped him a lot and Erling has great respect for him. There are many rumours, but there are positive ones. We have great respect for both clubs and both have a great history."

So there'll be no undue pressure from Dad. No great cash demands from Raiola. And no concern about where he'll fit in Solskjaer's system.

Now it's just about finding an agreement with RB Salzburg - and making it clear that if Haaland does sign, it'll be for keeps. Solskjaer - with this United squad - doesn't have the luxury to wait another six months.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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