And Sunday’s dour goalless draw between the sides underlined just how much they both need a striker of the Norwegian’s pedigree.
They are not alone in pursuing Haaland, with Manchester City also identifying him as the successor to Sergio Aguero, while Europe’s leading clubs are poised to move as well.
The race for the 20-year-old is only intensified by a buyout clause in his Borussia Dortmund contract set at around £65million and reportedly active in 2022. That makes him attainable for just about any major club – even in a transfer market expected to be constrained by the financial impact of coronavirus.
The insistence on a release clause terrified United during negotiations with his agent Mino Raiola in 2019, with Old Trafford’s hierarchy concerned they would have no control over the player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer nurtured at Molde and believed could spearhead a daunting attack along with Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and another target in Jadon Sancho.
A clause becoming active next year would place pressure on Dortmund to sell this summer. It would also have a major impact on what they can demand.
They feared Raiola could just sell to the highest bidder and that looks set to be the case this summer when Haaland is expected to leave Dortmund. With no shortage of clubs able to meet his clause, the decision will come down to the player and his father, Alfe-Inge Haaland.
And, of course, Raiola, who was so pivotal in another of his clients, Matthijs de Ligt, spurning the opportunity to join Barcelona in favour of Juventus when he left Ajax in 2019. Barca were convinced he wanted to join them, but Juve won out. So Raiola’s influence will be a major factor in Haaland’s decision-making at the end of the season.
The super-agent has had very public fallouts with United and Solskjaer over Paul Pogba, who could very well leave Old Trafford this summer. He recently claimed he would stop placing his clients at United, though that remains to be seen. He also has a bitter relationship with Pep Guardiola, which could present an obstacle to City’s hopes of signing Haaland.
But that didn’t stop young defender Philippe Sandler moving to the Etihad. And the price of Haaland – who has affection with the club due to his father’s time as a player there - makes him an opportunity City dare not pass up.
For all their outrageous spending under Guardiola, City are still to break a world transfer record. On the open market, Haaland would command a fee well in excess of £100m, which could have seen City have to give way to rivals in the manner they did when pursuing Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire.
Chelsea have been burned before when caught in a tug of war over a Raiola client in the form of Romelu Lukaku in 2017. The Belgium striker was believed to favour a return to Stamford Bridge, where he’d played earlier in his career, when leaving Everton, with Antonio Conte desperate to sign him – along with Van Dijk – but he still ended up at United.
The battle for Haaland will be even more fiercely contested, with the forward considered to be alongside Kylian Mbappe as a natural successor to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the next greats of the sport.
In that respect, Champions League qualification is absolutely vital if Chelsea are to be serious contenders.
United have the relationship with Solskjaer and City have the emotional ties from his youth. Chelsea need something significant of their own to lure him to the Bridge – Champions League football is an absolute bare minimum.