MANCHESTER, England (AP)After Erling Haaland’s latest two-goal display in the Champions League, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola had to quell speculation that the Norway striker could already be planning a move out of the club.
Guardiola dismissed reports coming out of Spain that the striker – who took his season tally to 19 goals in 12 games with a first-half double in Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Copenhagen – has a release clause in his Man City contract that would allow him to join Real Madrid in 2024.
”It’s not true,” Guardiola said. ”He doesn’t have a release clause for Real Madrid or any other team. It’s not true is all I can say. … I have the feeling he is incredibly happy here.”
Real was among a host of Europe’s leading clubs tracking Haaland last season — but it was City who won the race for his signature in a $63 million deal from Borussia Dortmund.
Still, a future move to the Bernabeu is considered a possibility, with a release clause widely speculated about since his move to the Etihad.
”In the end, what’s going to happen in the future, who knows it?” added Guardiola. ”What’s important is he is happy, he is settled perfectly, he is incredibly beloved by everyone and that’s the most important thing.”
Guardiola resisted the temptation to rest the Norway international in a game City was expected to win easily, and Haaland duly responded with two goals inside 32 minutes.
He was only denied a second successive hat trick by the acrobatics of Copenhagen goalkeeper Kamil Grabara – and his manager’s decision to withdraw him at the interval.
It was an act of mercy – and also restraint.
Because the Catalan coach appears to be enjoying Haaland’s tour de force as much as anyone right now.
His face as the 22-year-old tapped home his second goal was a picture.
Turning to the crowd and rubbing his hands together with glee there seemed to be an acknowledgement that this is almost unfair.
Haaland is too big, too strong, too fast, too clinical.
”It’s getting a little silly now,” tweeted former England striker Gary Lineker. ”Making goal scoring appear absurdly easy.”
This was a latest mismatch as Copenhagen’s hapless defenders failed to track Haaland’s movement. They are in good company, with Bournemouth the only team to keep him at bay this season.
”It’s unbelievable honestly. I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life,” City midfielder Jack Grealish said about Haaland. ”For the first and second goals I was just laughing. He is always there.
”The keeper said something to me as I was walking back. He said, `He’s not human!’ I said, `You’re telling me?’ Hopefully he can carry on this form and take us to glory.”
That is the question hanging over Haaland. Can he be the man to finally lead City to its first Champions League triumph?
Guardiola is yet to conquer Europe without Lionel Messi – despite taking charge of supremely talented squads at Bayern Munich and City since he won the competition for the second time with Barcelona in 2011.
The closest he has come was losing to Chelsea in the final of 2021.
But in Haaland, he has secured arguably the most fearsome attacking threat in world football. And while he may not possess Messi’s unique technical qualities, he is proving an irresistible match-winner to compare to the Argentina legend.
After hitting three against Manchester United in a 6-3 win on Sunday, he looked set to record his fourth hat trick of the season against Copenhagen.
Instead, Guardiola withdrew him, as City continued its demolition of the Danish champion without him.
Riyad Mahrez scored from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half after Marko Stamenic brought down Aymeric Laporte.
City could and should have added several more goals, with Jack Grealish repeatedly coming close either side of the interval – but Julian Alvarez made it 5-0 when turning home Mahrez’s ball in the 76th minute.
Haaland scored after just seven minutes – powering a first-time shot past Grabara after impressive work from Joao Cancello.
He doubled the lead in the 32-minute – tapping into an empty net after Sergio Gomez’ shot was parried by Grabara.
It looked like Haaland had completed his hat trick when City made it 3-0 six minutes before halftime – but Gomez’s effort was diverted over the line by Copenhagen defender David Khocholava with the striker set to pounce.
Copenhagen coach Jacob Neestrup acknowledged that his team was powerless to stop a player of Haaland’s prowess.
”We prepared, but he’s a top class striker,” he said. ”I saw the goals and the second goal there was a shot and when you see the way he moves when the ball was on the way and he gets the rebound like it was natural.
”He’s just a top-class player.”
The win continued City’s 100 percent record in Group G, three points clear of Borussia Dortmund, which beat Sevilla 4-1. They can secure qualification to the round of 16 with victory away to Copenhagen next week.
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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson