Manchester United were interested in signing both Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham long before the superstars joined their respective current clubs, with former Old Trafford chief Ed Woodward now giving his reasons why neither player ended up wearing red.
Haaland had made his name with Red Bull Salzburg during the first half of the 2019/20 season and wound up joining Borussia Dortmund during the campaign’s January transfer window.
Bellingham emerged around the same time, starring for Birmingham in the Championship at the age of just 16. In the summer of 2020, he followed in Haaland’s footsteps to Dortmund.
That year, then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted both of them and also Declan Rice, but the club ended up with none of the trio earmarked by the Norwegian.
“Ole wanted to bring down the age of the squad, so he identified three young players and told the club they should prioritise signing them,” ESPN has been told by one of Solskjaer’s ex-teammates.
“United messed up moves for Haaland and Bellingham and didn’t even make an effort for Rice. But they did sign Donny van de Beek, despite him not even being a player that Ole had identified as a target.”
When ESPN contacted Woodward, United’s former executive vice-chairman and the man in charge of day-to-day business until early 2022, the response was that the guarantee of “minutes” Dortmund offered Bellingham would not be matched and simply that the club felt Haaland was destined for City, where his father – Alf Inge – had himself played. City didn’t actually get the striker until 2022.
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It had also been reported at the time that United would not agree to the release clause demands set out by Haaland’s camp, while he too was assured of more immediate involvement at Dortmund.
Bellingham was given a personal tour of United’s training ground in March 2020, with Sir Alex Ferguson even roped in to meet with the then teenager and his family. Meanwhile, Haaland had previously played under Solskjaer at former club Molde and therefore had a prior connection.
Woodward’s tenure at United, when he was at times seen more as a UK-based extension of the Glazer family with little direct knowledge or experience of the business of football, is widely considered to have been a failure, coinciding with the club’s steady decline since 2013.
With replacement Richard Arnold, another viewed by fans as a Glazer ally, also out of the door and former City Football Group chief Omar Berrada coming in – by all accounts at the behest of the new INEOS contingent led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe – there is optimism for a much brighter future.