Pep Guardiola proclaimed Erling Haaland to be one of the best strikers in the world, though he refused to be drawn on transfer speculation linking Manchester City to the Borussia Dortmund star after the two teams were drawn together in the Champions League.
Haaland appears to be the main threat as Guardiola seeks to avoid a fourth consecutive quarter-final exit in Europe’s top competition, while there will also be a reunion with ex-City youngster and England winger Jadon Sancho.
As Sergio Aguero’s contract runs down and City’s all-time leading goalscorer struggles for minutes, rumours linking the Premier League leaders and Haaland – whose father Alf-Inge captained City at the start of the century – have mounted.
Speaking after Friday’s Champions League draw, which also mapped out a route to the final that will see the winner of City v Dortmund face either holders Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain in the semis, Guardiola conceded this season’s hectic schedule had not granted him too much time to watch BVB.
However, he is well aware of their main man.
“The numbers speak for themselves, of course he is one of the best strikers in the world right now at his age,” he said at a news conference to preview Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final trip to Everton.
“I saw few games, honestly, I didn’t have much time. But I saw the highlights and the numbers in the Champions League and the Bundesliga are impressive.
“Dortmund, I know [Mats] Hummels, [Raphael] Guerreiro, Emre Can with good experience, [Axel] Witsel, the quality of their players, Jadon Sancho and [Giovanni] Reyna.
“There are many, many young players with quality. In the last years they to invested in young players, paying good wages and good salaries for the agents and they have a lot of quality there.
“They were able to go through against Sevilla. Sevilla, in knockout competitions, is one of the strongest teams ever. They won three Europa Leagues in a row and last season won it again. Always they are so strong, and Dortmund were able to beat them.”
35 – @ErlingHaaland played 35 Bundesliga matches for Borussia Dortmund, his father Alf Inge Haaland played 35 Premier League matches for Manchester City. Erling scored 32 goals, Alf Inge 3. Comparison. @BlackYellow @ChampionsLeague pic.twitter.com/ath1D0Gx3L
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 19, 2021
Only Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski (39) has more goals across all competitions in Europe’s top five leagues than Haaland’s tally of 31 in 2020-21.
Among players to have netted 15 or more times, the Norway international has the best shot conversion rate (32.3 per cent) and averages a goal every 82.3 minutes.
They are the sort of returns to ignite a bidding war, although not one that Guardiola was keen to fuel.
“He’s a player from Borussia Dortmund. I don’t like it when people talk about our players,” he replied when asked whether he would like Haaland at City from next season.
“He’s a player for Borussia Dortmund. You understand I cannot answer this question.”
Before tackling potentially Europe’s strongest force of the coming decade in Haaland, Guardiola must first deal with one of the continent’s most revered coaches in the form of Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti.
The City manager paid a warm tribute to his opposite number, reflecting upon when Ancelotti offered guidance to him at the start of his coaching career.
“I don’t know how many years he has been a manager but at some of the best clubs in Europe – Madrid, PSG, Chelsea, Milan, Juventus, Napoli and now Everton,” he said.
“He has been abroad and everywhere and all the places he had success.
“I know when people talk about him as manager and as a person… especially how he took care of me when I started.
“I visited him when he was in Milan in my first years. He was so kind, we spoke a little bit about life and football.
“You feel when people take care of you, they are good people, and he’s one of them, for sure.”