Champions LeagueFootball

Erling Haaland in no rush to move as Europe’s elite clubs swarm around him

November 13, 2019

YOUNG footballers are rarely served by the hype and hysteria that can surround them. But there comes a point with some where it is inevitable, inescapable.

Nineteen-year-old Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland is producing the kind of performances and statistics with Red Bull Salzburg this season that command attention, and as many as 20 of the world’s biggest clubs are said to be tracking his progress.

Each year, it seems, a prodigious teen emerges as the hot young thing of the European game, courted by the wealthiest sides in search of an edge at the sharp end of the Champions League. From Renato Sanches to Kylian Mbappe to Joao Felix – each shot to prominence before being quickly snapped up for an eye-watering fee.

It is only a matter of time before Haaland follows suit.

The moment many will first have become aware of Haaland’s vast potential was during the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May this year. The Norwegian finished as the tournament’s top scorer despite his side’s elimination in the group stage, with all nine of his goals plundered in a single game, a 12-0 win over Honduras.

He joined Red Bull Salzburg last January, and the move to Austria was first viewed as an astute stepping stone before an eventual big-money transfer to one of Europe’s elite leagues. But already the teenager appears to have outgrown his current surroundings. Haaland’s hat-trick in his last outing, a 3-0 Austrian Bundesliga win over Wolfsberger, was his fifth treble of the season, taking his all-competitions tally for the campaign to a staggering 26 goals from just 18 games.

What will have most impressed the swathe of watching scouts is that the youngster has been equally prolific in the Champions League. Haaland has scored seven times in his first four games in Europe’s premier club competition, notching against such opposition as Liverpool and Napoli – with three goals in two games versus the latter. And he became the first teenager to score a Champions League hat-trick since Wayne Rooney did so for Manchester United against Fenerbahce in 2004, as Salzburg dispatched Belgian side Genk 6-2 in September.

Although he has been a regular Norway international at all youth levels up until his first senior caps in September, Haaland was born in Yorkshire, with his father, former Nottingham Forest, Manchester City and Norway midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, playing for Leeds United at the time. Despite having grown up in Norway from the age of three, the Salzburg player remains a keen Leeds fan – “The dream is to win the Premier League with Leeds,” he told a Norwegian newspaper in 2017.

Haaland began his career with Norwegian side Bryne, for whom he made a senior debut aged just 15. He then joined Molde, bringing him under the charge of current Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

With lessons in the finer art of finishing passed down from the former United striker, Haaland credits Solskjaer as a significant influence on his development. “He has had a huge impact on my life, both as a person and as a trainer,” the young forward said. “He won the Champions League and was an incredibly good player. He has taught me a lot.”

And it is this existing relationship with Solskjaer that leads many to believe United are among the favourites to sign Haaland when he eventually leaves Salzburg, although stiff competition comes, reportedly, in the form of Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and just about every other top club on the continent. Stylistically, the 6ft 4ins striker has, predictably, been compared to the most famous towering Scandinavian centre-forward, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "I had many role models and looked up to many football players,” Haaland said, “but Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the greatest of them all."

While Haaland certainly shares Ibrahimovic’s size, touch and canniness in tight spaces, Solskjaer perhaps hit on a more instructive analogy when he compared the 19-year-old’s skillset to that of Belgium and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku. Both are left-footed, possess a powerful and accurate strike – particularly when finishing across the goalkeeper from the left-hand side – and a rapidness over the first 10 yards when breaking in behind the opposition’s backline.

The spotlight shining on Haaland will only grow brighter if he is able to maintain his current form, and the advances of the game’s biggest and best clubs will intensify. But it seems the young man is wise beyond his years, and won’t rush into his next move; wherever he goes, he will want to play. "Salzburg was the club that suited me the best and I also think it was very important to look at how important a part I was going to play for the club I joined,” he said of his move to Austria. “There is more of a chance of playing here."

If any forewarning were needed, Haaland need only glance across to Martin Odegaard, his international colleague, for an example of the difficulties a big move can present if made too soon. The 20-year-old playmaker is only now beginning to fulfil his potential, on loan for the season with Real Sociedad, having signed for Real Madrid at 15 and endured years of inordinate expectation subsequently.

Everything about his career to date suggests Haaland will plot his next move wisely, though, as unaffected by the attention as he is unflinching in the face of Europe’s best defences.