Reds need more than just Haa­land sign­ing

Manchester Evening News - - SPORT -

THE Nor­we­gian jour­nal­ist who broke the news Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer had flown to Salzburg on Fri­day en­coun­tered his own aerial strife on Sun­day. Their morn­ing flight to Manch­ester from San Se­bas­tian, where Nor­way in­ter­na­tional Martin Ode­gaard had lined up against Barcelona on Satur­day evening, was de­layed.

The re­porter still over­came the Manch­ester traf­fic to make Sol­sk­jaer’s post-match press con­fer­ence at Old Traf­ford in am­ple time.

Sol­sk­jaer is the op­po­site to the ur­gent Jose Mour­inho in that he usu­ally takes his seat in the press con­fer­ence room an hour af­ter full­time, and re­porters are in a rush to beat the se­cu­rity team’s or­der to lock up the sta­dium two hours from the fi­nal whis­tle.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the Nor­we­gian man­ager was asked by the Nor­we­gian re­porter about the Nor­we­gian player. Er­ling Haa­land was con­spic­u­ous by his ab­sence for Red Bull Salzburg’s fi­nal fix­ture at Hart­berg on Satur­day be­fore the two-month win­ter break in the Aus­trian league. Sol­sk­jaer was in Salzburg on the Fri­day.

“I don’t com­ment on those spec­u­la­tions, so that’s it,” Sol­sk­jaer stressed. “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 teams’ play­ers.”

Sol­sk­jaer is of­ten opaque with in­jury bul­letins and the can­dour he of­fered about Haa­land felt sig­nif­i­cant. With 24 goals in 20 club games this term and a re­puted £20m re­lease clause that is only ac­tive in Jan­uary, Sol­sk­jaer can hardly be blamed for skip­ping the United play­ers’ re­cov­ery ses­sion at Car­ring­ton on Fri­day.

Haa­land em­barked on a tour of the Red Bull Leipzig and Borus­sia Dort­mund train­ing grounds last week, a la Ode­gaard five years ago. Ode­gaard was barely 14 when he chose to join Real Madrid and still has one ap­pear­ance to his name.

As you would ex­pect from a player with close ties to Mino Raiola, Haa­land has a sense of self-worth. Al­though his Nor­we­gian sur­name is spelt Ha­land, he has plumped for a dou­ble ‘a’ on the back of his shirt as it is more com­mer­cially vi­able.

Haa­land would not have a fiveyear set­tling in pe­riod and en­thu­si­asm among Reds sup­port­ers over his pos­si­ble mid-sea­son move has al­ready been tem­pered, not helped by his prof­li­gate per­for­mance against Liver­pool last week. Haa­land wasted two pre­sentable op­por­tu­ni­ties with the game goal­less and Liver­pool pre­vailed 2-0.

That is how fickle and un­for­giv­ing it can be in the so­cial me­dia era. Gareth Bale trans­formed from last sea­son’s ac­ces­sory to must-have item on the back of his au­da­ciously awe­some Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal win­ner against Liver­pool. Harry Maguire’s so­cial me­dia team de­lib­er­ately chose an im­age of his cel­e­bra­tion at the Kop – the goal that drained Liver­pool of mo­men­tum in their ti­tle chal­lenge – for his farewell post to Leicester City fans.

Trib­al­ism aside, some Nor­we­gians are per­plexed why there is not as much jour­nal­is­tic in­ter­est in Haa­land as he con­sid­ers fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Ronny Johnsen, Sol­sk­jaer, Henning Berg, Erik Nev­land and Joshua King.

Haa­land is an in­die dar­ling com­pared with the box of­fice Alexis Sanchez trans­fer; a plot where United gazumped City and raided Ar­se­nal five-and-a-half years on from Robin van Per­sie. In­ter­est would in­ten­sify if Roy Keane met the Haa­lands at Manch­ester Air­port.

For Sol­sk­jaer to re­cruit four play­ers with­out one of them be­ing a mid­fielder would be neg­li­gent.

United’s two most ex­pe­ri­enced mid­field­ers have spent most of the sea­son in the physio’s room or re­cu­per­at­ing in Dubai and Mi­ami and the club’s in­ten­tion was to add a mid­fielder in the sum­mer.

Scott McTom­i­nay and Fred have stepped up, though in games like the Everton draw their lim­i­ta­tions are ex­posed. The Reds are de­void of an adept play­maker when­ever teams sit deep and Sol­sk­jaer said in Septem­ber ‘we’re look­ing for some cre­ativ­ity and goals.’ Cre­ativ­ity must take prece­dence.

Sol­sk­jaer clar­i­fied last week United need to sign ‘starters’ and Haa­land, at 19, is not an ob­vi­ous starter, how­ever fit­ful An­thony Mar­tial is four-and-a-half years into his United ca­reer.

Ma­son Green­wood is ap­ply­ing pres­sure, though Sol­sk­jaer has not had the courage to out­right drop Mar­tial this sea­son, partly due to his eight-week ab­sence with a ham­string strain.

Haa­land is the high­est scorer in the Cham­pi­ons League on seven and that is a laud­able, if mis­lead­ing, rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Moussa Marega tal­lied five in the group stage last term with Porto, who ac­tu­ally pro­gressed through to the last 16, un­like Salzburg.

Like Harry Ellis’s at­tempted in­ter­ven­tion in Die Hard, sign­ing Sanchez seemed to be a sound idea that went hor­ren­dously wrong. Sanchez put the noses of Mar­tial and Paul Pogba out of joint and the French con­nec­tion caused a dis­con­nect be­tween Mour­inho and the United board, even­tu­ally lead­ing to his down­fall.

Mar­tial would not be backed as staunchly if he took um­brage with an­other at­tacker upset­ting the ap­ple cart, ir­re­spec­tive of Joel Glazer’s fas­ci­na­tion with him. Sol­sk­jaer re­buked Mar­tial fol­low­ing his stat­uesque warm-up against Chelsea in April and no United player should be Te­flon, least of all a £58m for­ward with fewer goals than the 18-year-old Green­wood.

Berg was the last estab­lished Nor­we­gian United bought, back in 1997, and Sol­sk­jaer’s re­liance on his com­pa­tri­ots at Cardiff smacked of nepo­tism. For­mer United academy mem­bers Mag­nus Eikrem and Mats Daehli shared the same agent as Sol­sk­jaer in Jim Sol­bakken and made 28 ap­pear­ances be­tween them.

Then there is the goalscorer Sol­sk­jaer likened Haa­land to 18 months ago: “He re­minds me of the type of striker Lukaku is.”

That piles pres­sure on Nor­we­gian man­ager and player.

Er­ling Haa­land has been linked with a move to Old Traf­ford

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