There is one name on every soccer fan’s mind right now: Erling Braut Haaland.
The 19-year old Norwegian’s lethal goalscoring and clinical finishing have taken the soccer world by storm. Just one year ago, he was sitting on the bench against second division Austrian side SC Wiener Neustadt in a stadium that seated barely over 2000 people.
Since then a lot has changed; Haaland is a key player for Borussia Dortmund (BVB) and scored two goals against a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Football Club (F.C.) on the biggest stage — a Champions League round of 16 match in front of 66,000 boisterous fans. His first goal was a classic poacher’s finish where he anticipated the ball and acted brilliantly on it to find the back of the net. If his first could be considered lucky, his second goal was all class. He needed just one touch to settle himself before blasting an unstoppable left-footed strike past the helpless PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas into the roof of the net to send the yellow wall in raptures.
If his performance in the Champions League is any indication, Haaland may well be the real deal. However, let’s first delve into his background and what took him from the bench against Neustadt to scoring against PSG in one year.
Haaland is the son of former Manchester City F.C. midfielder Alf-Inge “Alfie” Haaland. Perhaps, that is where he gets his soccer instinct from. Growing up, Erling Haaland played for Norwegian second division teamBryne Fotballklubb (FK), until he joined the premier Norwegian team Molde FK in 2017. Run by then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Molde FK helped him develop even further, eventually granting him a move to F.C. Red Bull Salzburg, where he made his name as soccer’s next top talent.
His first few months at Salzburg saw limited opportunities to play but come the 2019-20 season, he had established himself as their starting center-forward and has not looked back since. This season for Salzburg, he amassed 16 goals and six assists for Salzburg in just 14 games, leading them to the top of the Austrian Football Bundesliga. While Haaland had been excellent in the league, he made a name for himself in the Champions League, where an opening day hat trick against Koninklijk Racing Club against Genk introduced Haaland to the world. He followed this up with goals against Liverpool F.C. and Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli. As his reputation increased, so did the transfer rumors begin to spread in the air.
He was close to moving to several European heavyweight teams, such as Manchester United F.C., who were perilously close to signing him. In the end, however, Haaland joined BVB, accompanying other promising talents like right-winger Jadon Sancho and midfielder Julian Brandt. The move, thus far, has worked out perfectly as he has bagged eight goals in five games, of which he has started only three.
The interest from other teams should not be surprising. Firstly, he stands at nearly 6 feet 4 inches, making him a massive presence in the box. Secondly, he displays an inherent knack of being in the right place at the right time, something all great center-forwards possess. Real Madrid’s Raúl González Blanco had it, Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy had it and even Solskjaer had it. Thirdly, his pace and movement are often overlooked due to his size, but he is no snail on the pitch, as Haaland makes up ground rapidly during counter-attacks. Lastly and most importantly is his confidence. It is no secret he loves the game, but Haaland’s innocent passion for soccer is somewhat endearing. All of this is what makes him a freak of nature and an unstoppable force.
His goalscoring has excited everyone but surely, he envisions himself at a bigger club than BVB. The question, therefore, begs to be asked — what next for the cold-blooded striker? For now, he and BVB are striving for their first Bundesliga since 2013 as the German title race heats up with as many as five teams still fully in the race. He also has the Champions League to look forward to, starting with the second leg against PSG in Paris. He already has 10 goals in the competition and, should they get past PSG, BVB could be dark horses to win it all. His move to BVB has not discouraged his suitors, as Manchester United, F.C. Bayern Munich and other European heavyweights are still very interested in his services. There is a release clause in his contract and it will be interesting to see where the future takes him. Will he end up in Munich like most BVB talents or will he seek to grow under the tutelage of countryman Solskjaer?
Much is yet to be seen, but for now, one thing is clear: he has the potential to be the next big striker in soccer folklore.