Erling Haaland; The world's most exciting talent (Issue 1)
This article is taken from Get Football’s new European Football publication, The Modern Footballer. In one of ten player profiles, Tom Fenton looks at World Football’s most exciting talent - Erling Haaland.
NO matter the size of the achievement, there will always be detractors. Score 12 league goals in 25 games as a 17-year-old? Well it’s only the Norwegian league. Score nine goals in one game? It’s only the Under 20 World Cup. Become the third youngest player to score a Champions' League hat-trick? It's only against Genk. Now though, the penny finally seems to have dropped. As Erling Braut Haaland tore his way through his first four opponents in Germany, scoring eight times in the process, few were doubting the talent they were witnessing this time.
It seems safe to suggest that Haaland really isn’t your average 19-year-old. Here stands a forward, who is not only 6’4, but is also strong as an ox and can beat a defender for pace. Such is his size, that former team-mates dubbed Haaland the 'man-child'; not maliciously, but because he was baby-faced with the accompanying frame of a comic book villain. When a teenage striker is blessed with just about every physical attribute you could hope for, big things are always going to be expected of him from the outset. This is especially true, given that Erling is the son of former Leeds United defender Alf-Inge Haaland. The Dortmund star was actually born in the city of Leeds in 2000 - but it was back in his father’s native country of Norway that the younger Haaland took his first tentative steps into the professional ranks.
He started out at the relatively small Bryne FK, a second division side, where he would feature 16 times for the senior team without registering a goal. It’s interesting to note that, despite being earmarked for the top from an early age, Haaland wasn’t especially prolific during the early years of his career. A £100k move to Norwegian giants Molde FK followed in 2017, where he would again make a modest start, scoring twice in 14 league appearances. It wasn’t long before Haaland would announce himself however, with the following season proving to be a defining one. Under the stewardship of manager and childhood hero Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Haaland took the league by storm, scoring 12 times in 25 Eliteserien games. A record like that, from a player yet to celebrate his 18th birthday, hadn’t gone unnoticed – the notoriously shrewd RB Salzburg were already waiting in the wings.
The decision to join RB Salzburg was, on the face of it, a simple one. Few clubs are capable of honing young talent better than the Austrian outfit, who in recent years alone have developed the likes of Sadio Mané, Naby Keïta, Marcel Sabitzer, Dayot Upamecano and many more. They are the masters of signing promising young players from foreign academies and developing them, before finally selling them on for a hefty fee a few years down the line. Haaland was the latest low risk gamble made by RB, who paid €8m for the young forward – a relatively small outlay, if the move panned out as expected.
Once again, Haaland got off to a solid, but ultimately modest, start to life in Austria. He played just five times in his first six months at the club, in large part, due to the form of regular forwards, Hee-Chan Hwang and Moanes Dabour. He was going to have to bide his time. Then, in the summer of 2019, came the perfect opportunity for the 18-year-old to showcase his talent to the RB hierarchy, and indeed to the wider world. The Under 20 World Cup gave him a chance to follow in the footsteps of Paul Pogba, Riccardo Orsolini and Fikayo Tomori, who all used the stage to their advantage in previous editions.
While his Norwegian side largely failed to impress, Haaland most certainly lays claim to the competition's most memorable moment. In the history books, Haaland is listed as the 2019 top scorer, what that neglects to mention though is that all nine of his goals came in just one game, against Honduras - his ruthless finishing ability and razor sharp penalty box instincts going into overdrive.
He returned to RB following that historic summer for what would prove to be another ground-breaking campaign. His league form was imperious, with 16 goals in 14 Austrian league appearances, a staggering record for even the most seasoned forwards. But it was Haaland’s Champions' League form that would truly astound onlookers. Eight goals in four games, including a superb hat-trick against Genk, caught the attention of the entire footballing world. He became the third youngest player in Champions League history (after Raúl González and Wayne Rooney) to score three in one game. By now, the jury was in. Haaland was a star in the making.
Before long, Europe’s biggest clubs were beating a path to agent Mino Raiola’s door. It may be Haaland’s ultimate dream to win the Premier League one day, but he resisted advances from England in favour of the club most likely to take his game to the next level – Borussia Dortmund. Signing for €20m at the end of December, it is a deal that has the potential to radically alter the futures of both player and club. For Dortmund, he may finally be a number nine capable of emulating the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Haaland meanwhile gets to play for a club with a remarkable track record of turning raw potential into world class ability - Jadon Sancho being just the latest example.
Haaland possesses just about every attribute needed to succeed at the highest level. As we’ve already seen in his opening BVB salvo, he’s powerful, quick, has an eye for goal, and makes intelligent runs between the posts. In his league debut at Augsburg, Haaland provided a stunning late cameo, the young Norwegian international scoring a rapid fire, counter attacking hat-trick.
Contrastingly, a week later at home against Union Berlin, the striker proved to be just as effective against a low block defence. The early signs are ominous – no matter the scenario, he always scores. Weaknesses remain, as he still plays with the degree of rawness one might expect from a 19-year-old but if he continues to improve at the current rate, the sky really is the limit for the Leeds born sensation. The future is bright for Haaland – and, for now at least, the future is yellow.