Man City prioritise Erling Haaland with Jack Grealish likely out of reach for now

Manchester City are prioritising a move for Erling Haaland with Sergio Aguero due to leave in the summer but interest in Jack Grealish is severely complicated by Aston Villa’s £100 million valuation of the England midfielder.

City have made signing a replacement striker for Aguero a priority this summer but face stiff competition from Real Madrid and Chelsea for Haaland.

Manchester United – who failed in their bid to land the Norwegian 15 months ago – retain an interest in the Borussia Dortmund striker but are reluctant to become embroiled in an auction. Haaland is likely to be the most high-profile transfer of the summer should Dortmund cash in on the prolific 20-year-old and any move could have a ripple effect through the market.

City recognise that they will have to smash their £65 million transfer record to sign Haaland but financing another mega-money move for Grealish in the same summer could be an insurmountable obstacle.

Pep Guardiola, the City manager, and the club’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, have great admiration for Grealish. But Aston Villa’s billionaire owners have no pressing financial obligation to sell, despite the impact of the pandemic, and a deal could prove beyond reach if they do not budge from their £100 million valuation.

Villa may find it harder to keep hold of Grealish if the club fail to qualify for Europe this season. The England playmaker – who turns 26 in September and has also interested United in the past – has still to play in the Europa League at the very least and is desperate to showcase his talents on the continental stage.

Grealish’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, said on Tuesday that he expected the pandemic to impact the transfer market but is still confident some big deals will happen. Grealish is finally due to return to action against Fulham this weekend after missing Villa’s past six Premier League matches with a shin injury that forced him out of England’s World Cup qualifiers.

“I’m expecting three or four very big deals of my own that will break a lot of records,” Barnett told The Athletic.

Guardiola claimed that Aguero – City’s all-time leading scorer with 257 goals – was “irreplaceable” and backed the Argentina striker to play for another “two, three, four or five years” despite an injury-plagued past 12 months.

Barcelona are among a number of clubs interested in Aguero – who is a free agent this summer and is reported to be prepared to take a pay cut to play with his close friend and compatriot Lionel Messi.

Guardiola is still expecting Aguero to have an influence over the remainder of the season as City chase an unprecedented quadruple, though. “I still think he has interesting goals to score for us this season,” he said. Despite City – who also want a new left-back – being billed as favourites to sign Haaland, Guardiola has endured a difficult relationship with the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, who appeared in no mood to try to build bridges with him.

“As for Mr Guardiola, I’ve closed the book already a long time ago,” Raiola said. “Everybody knows what I think of him personally and he can say what he thinks for me personally. For the rest, I think he’s a great trainer. And that’s how it is. I will not shut up for anybody.”

City have looked at Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku and have also been linked with Southampton’s Danny Ings. Harry Kane’s name continues to get linked with various clubs but that would be both a very complex and expensive deal to do.

Yet Raiola says it is Haaland who is “the talk of the town”. “With Haaland, everybody was wrong. He did things much quicker than everybody imagined,” he said. “Haaland is in front of his own development.

“This boy – I’m 100 per cent convinced and everybody’s convinced – can move to any club, wherever he wants, already on this level. And he could have done that last year.

“This is a moment of waiting and seeing what is in the best interest of the player. Sometimes the best interest of the player is not to move when everybody says he has to move.”

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