It might have been Manchester United last summer. It so nearly was in January 2020.
Erling Haaland is set to finally touch down in the Premier League as Manchester City and Pep Guardiola edge closer to winning the goalscoring lottery. But while Haaland is the social media trend everyone but those associated with the blue side of this footballing city wanted to see flash up on mobiles and tablet devices, there is still a silver lining for United and their incoming manager Erik ten Hag.
There is no doubt that Haaland will send shivers across the Premier League; when it comes to defenders and those dedicated supporters who pay their wages sat in the stands. He looks ready-made for the blood and thunder that is the English top-flight and City, at last, have their Sergio Aguero replacement.
READ MORE: Man City set to avoid summer transfer saga as they close in on Erling Haaland signing
He might need time to adjust when swapping Borussia Dortmund for the Etihad Stadium. However, the Norwegian is well-versed in Premier League culture having been born and raised in Leeds and watching his father, Alf Inge, star for City and Erling’s hometown club during his own playing days.
Alf Inge represents City in their former guise and Erling very much in their current one. Even without a fully-fledged number nine, Guardiola and his star-studded team are sitting on the brink of a fourth title in five seasons. European heart-break put to one side, they have also, rather alarmingly, grabbed 89 goals post-Aguero in the Premier League alone. You would not bet against them bringing up three figures in the matches that remain.
With a staggering goal return for Dortmund – 85 in 88 games across the competitions – Haaland will provide even more clout to what is an already mouth-watering squad. He might even be joined by United wantaway Paul Pogba as he ponders his next move. More on that another time.
Almost offering up a fitting tribute to their beloved late super-agent, Mino Raiola, the prospect of getting transfers across the line, you would expect, would leave Raiola feeling proud. Respects paid by Haaland and Pogba following his tragic death showed exactly how much Raiola meant to them and countless other superstars he guided.
But while City fans form an orderly queue to have Haaland 9 shirts printed, United too may have got (almost) what they wanted from the Norwegian jetting in to Manchester this summer. Any lingering hope they had about revising their own interest was, ultimately, extinguished on-field this season.
Failure to land Champions League qualification will undoubtedly have further impact on Ten Hag and pulling power in the short-term. However, if they were not already, City are heavy, heavy favorites to win the Premier League for next campaign and this one has still yet to be settled, either.
Liverpool will have something to say about both of those matters, of course, but if United were under any illusions about the task which awaits Ten Hag starting in the summer, they were given four gut-wrenching reminders during their Saturday afternoon demolition at the Amex Stadium.
Rio Ferdinand put it best, it was no more than a trip to the seaside. Forget the buckets and spades, though, United merely dug themselves further into a hole against an impressive Brighton side.
Change is on the horizon as Ten Hag sets about a much-needed rebuild, with further alterations coming behind the scenes. His eventual landing in Manchester is not the only high-profile one – but Haaland returning to the land of his birth does give United further time to mount their next challenge.
Barring a miracle, third-place and cup trophies appear to be a best-case scenario for Ten Hag and other hopefuls at this early juncture, yet with that slight pressure relief comes an opportunity for the Dutchman to take his time – and ultimately calculate when to strike.
As supporters in these parts know all too well, football goes in cycles and United are, once again, right at the start of theirs while City and Liverpool continue to set the standard. But as Liverpool have proven so convincingly under Jurgen Klopp, a measured yet definite progression can, no doubt, halt City in their big-spending tracks.
We want your views, Reds. You can become even more involved with our Man United coverage by signing up. This will unlock a whole host of things – including joining the comments and taking part in our special Q&As, where you can speak directly to our reporters about what’s happening at Old Trafford this week and beyond.
Click here to get started.
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.