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Inside Haaland's first fortnight at Man City: Anthems, a bromance and a debut goal

09:13 SAST 2022/07/29
Erling Haaland Jack Grealish Man City 2022-23
It hasn't taken long for the summer signing to settle into Pep Guardiola's squad

Superstar strikers can occasionally be difficult characters to deal with. Just ask Manchester United, who are still trying to convince Cristiano Ronaldo – a 37-year-old with few alternatives – that his future lies at Old Trafford.

Even the normally placid Robert Lewandoski forced his exit to Barcelona after eight years of continued success at Bayern Munich.

Goalscorers are a unique breed and that can sometimes require special attention to keep them happy.

So, Manchester City will be delighted with the painless way in which Erling Haaland, arguably the most significant transfer of the summer, has quickly settled with the Premier League champions.

Of course, the most substantial tests will come on the pitch, and more on that later, but the early days have shown the sort of promise that City will have hoped for.

Every major club in Europe registered an interest in the hottest young striker on the market but City had secured their top summer target even before the previous campaign had finished, managing to secure Haaland's services for just £53 million ($61m).

The difference to the previous summer and a protracted and ultimately failed chase for Tottenham’s Harry Kane could hardly be greater and it was no wonder Pep Guardiola could hardly conceal his giddiness when the Haaland deal was set to go through.

It also meant the striker could join up with the squad at the same time as everyone else. In a summer without major international tournaments, Guardiola was able to take the majority of his senior squad away for pre-season to help with team-bonding, as well as work on tactical initiatives.

Haaland is no stranger to moving clubs, of course, with City the fourth different team of his fledgling career, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier.

Still, City's US tour went well and he and fellow new signings Kalvin Phillips, Julian Alvarez and Stefan Ortega have settled in quickly, with insiders remarking on the high spirits in Houston and Green Bay, even if the sessions in the high heat were gruelling.

Post-training, the players sat down for relaxed meals and, as per tradition, the new signings sang in front of their new team-mates, with Haaland's rendition of Enrique Iglesias's Hero described as "really good" by Phillips.

Later on the tour, the squad sang the striker's anthem, The Haaland Song, at a dinner on his 22nd birthday after a short speech where he thanked players and staff for their warm welcome.

That moment was filmed by Jack Grealish and already a bromance is blossoming between the pair.

It manifested itself on the pitch with the £100m star setting up Haaland for his first goal in a sky blue shirt in the 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich. But, away from football, they share the same relaxed energy.

There are other similarities, of course, in that both are prominent City signings. Grealish's potential has yet to be fully unlocked, while Haaland looks destined to define a generation.

They will also feel some pressure to step up to fill the void this season left by the high-profile exits of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus to title rivals.

"He's good," Haaland said of Grealish. "He has to get better, I have to get better, but [there's a] good link. I like the vibe around him, so it's going to be fun."

Grealish was also excited by the potential of their partnership.

"He is a great guy, a brilliant guy. The first day that I met him we took a car together and even after that ride I thought, 'what a guy!'" the England international said.

"He’s so down to earth and quite up front with the way he is. You get used to that.

"He’s looked good in training and once he reaches full fitness will be unstoppable. I can’t wait to play with him and I’m really looking forward to it."

Those down-to-earth qualities were clear when he dryly joked on Twitter that he had bought a bag of Percy Pig sweets shortly after tabloid photographs of him buying vital supplies for his new Manchester home emerged.

However, while he has shown he is happy to be just another member of the squad, the reality is that Haaland was brought in because of his special qualities – even in a stellar group like City's.

“His numbers are remarkable,” Guardiola said of Haaland following his 85 goals in 88 appearances for Dortmund.

For all the success playing a false-nine system, the City boss has wanted a frontman since club legend Sergio Aguero left the Etihad.

And that will mean an alteration in style to accommodate a change in style with Haaland has the spearhead, expected to convert the opportunities created by Kevin De Bruyne, Grealish and the rest.

“He has to adapt to our play and of course we are going to adapt,” Guardiola said. “With his movements and quality in the box, we are going to try to put as many balls as possible in the box.”

His goal against Bayern hinted at what's to come with the Norwegian making a timed run to convert a perfect cut-back.

Haaland, too, will need to change and it will be interesting to see if he is able to cope with leading the press as the front man, just as Aguero adapted.

Certainly, he seems desperate to learn from Guardiola and sees the City boss as someone who can improve on his natural talent and goalscoring instinct.

"I cannot tell you too much about this after one week," Haaland said, "but I’ve been training well and I’m ready for what is next."

What's next on the pitch is Liverpool in Saturday's Community Shield at Wembley, and the Premier League's standout centre-back Virgil Van Dijk. It be an early test, but also an early opportunity to show what he can deliver.

Pre-season has largely been a relaxed and happy place for the City players, but now the serious business is about to begin.