Erling Haaland has come a long way from his modest upbringing in Norway… he now has all of Europe scrambling for him – but who will win the race for the services of the Borussia Dortmund sensation?
- Erling Haaland, alongside Kylian Mbappe, is the talk of European football now
- The Norwegian star is causing jaws to drop thanks to his goal-scoring heroics
- He has interest from Europe’s best clubs – including Real Madrid and Barcelona
- Man City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea are also interested in his signature
- Haaland will come up against suitors City away on Tuesday in Champions League
The most-wanted man in European football will be at Manchester City on Tuesday night, whether or not Pep Guardiola thinks he can afford him.
Erling Haaland arrives in the country of his birth, the next £125million footballer off the rank, with Borussia Dortmund ready to take on City in the Champions League quarter-finals.
He and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe are seen as heirs apparent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstars who have dominated world football for the last decade.
Erling Haaland is causing jaws to drop thanks to his incredible goal-scoring heroics
The Borussia Dortmund star was quicker to 100 goals than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo
Haaland grew up in Bryne – a town with a population of 12,000 – but he is now far away from his quiet upbringing following his rise to superstardom
And he has all the credentials for footballer royalty, even at the age of 20. His agent is the probably the best known in the world, Mino Raiola, famous in the UK principally for his management of Paul Pogba and outspoken interventions on his client’s future.
His dad, Alf-Inge, is the former Leeds and Manchester City player, the defender who Roy Keane famously hit with a brutal challenge, high on his knee, which led to a five-match ban for the United midfielder and a protracted legal case as to whether it had ended Haaland senior’s career.
Most importantly, Haaland has facts to back up the fanfare: he was quicker to 100 goals in top-class football than either Messi or Ronaldo. He has already scored 20 Champions League goals in just 14 games and 39 goals this season, 33 for Dortmund. Week after week, he is causing jaws to drop.
The opening nine minutes against Bayern Munich last month were a case in point. He simply bulldozed his way through the Bayern defence to give Dortmund a two-goal lead, though they would eventually lose 4-2.
Jan Age Fjortoft, the Norwegian international who played up front for Middlesbrough and Swindon and who now works for Norwegian TV, is a longstanding family friend having played with Alfe-Inge or the national team. Fjortoft now covers every Dortmund game for Norwegian TV.
‘We watched him score those goals against Bayern, we were shaking our heads and thinking: “What are we part of?” said Fjortoft. ‘As a small nation we’re very proud of our player and he’s our main man and when we see him making headlines all round the world it makes us very proud.’
And, along with Robert Lewandowski at Bayern and Harry Kane, he is part of a growing breed of old-fashioned centre forwards. ‘In Germany, the No 9 is coming back,’ said Fjortoft. ‘Mbappe isn’t so much a typical No 9, he can do everything. But Erling is this typical new No 9 but a developed No 9 with power in his runs, phenomenal physique and this hunger to score goals.
At the age of 16, Haaland – whose super talent was already evident – moved to Molde
Haaland then exploded into life at Red Bull Salzburg before his big move to Dortmund
Jan Age Fjortoft, a long-standing family friend, has spoken glowingly about Haaland
‘It’s very symbolic that Messi and Cristiano are out of the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 16 years. And you have these two young kids coming through and we pundits love that. But I think both Mbappe and Haaland are the real deal.
‘Mbappe has won the World Cup but he’s still young but you have two players with great passion for the game. They have a great attitude, which is very underestimated. I’ve known his father Alfie for his whole football life and Erling has a fantastic attitude. The attitude he puts in every day to improve himself as a player is amazing. You see the end result on the pitch but he is unbelievable in terms of attitude.’
Born in Leeds, Haaland grew up in Bryne, his father’s home town with a population of 12,000, which is five miles inland from the North Sea and on the shore of Lake Froylandsvatnet, a Scandinavian idyll, far away from the hurly burly of modern football and the £125million he is expected to cost if sold this summer.
Like his dad, he joined the local team, Byrne FK, but by the age of 16, his super talent already evident, he had moved to Molde, Norway’s dominant club, who were then managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Chief executive of Molde, Oystein Neerland, recalls: ‘Solskjaer did a very good job building the physical and mental part of his game. And as a former striker he had good advice and inspiration. He got on very, very well with Erling.’ They had to temper his output initially.
‘The first year in Molde he grew 20cms (9in) in one year, so he needed control his training,’ said Neerland. ‘Then he started also to build his physique.’ Now the centre-forward he most resembles is Wayne Rooney, his physical strength and sheer belligerence being a key factor in his goal scoring.
Haaland will come up against suitors Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday
Haaland also impressed off the pitch. ‘One typical thing he would do, which was special compared to other players, was that after training he knock on my door,’ says Neerland. ‘I was director of the club and he would say: “Hi, Oystein. Do you have five minutes?” No problem. I was thinking: “What are we going to talk about?”
‘And he would ask me: “What’s it like to be a CEO in a club? Do you like your job?” He was 17 years old. I never had other young players visit my office for conversations like that. That impressed me quite a lot. He wanted to know everything about football. Of course, he had his father around him. He was relaxed on the pitch, always wanted to win, enjoyed the game, never seemed to be afraid.’
Business wise then, he should be across all the decisions being made at present. Last week Raiola and Haaland senior were in Barcelona and Madrid, meeting with the club executives. No matter that Erling is under contract until 2024 and Borussia Dortmund say that they won’t sell this summer. Manchester United, City, Chelsea and the Spanish giants are all making plans if Dortmund’s resolution wavers.
Conventional wisdom says that when either Barca, who are €1billion in debt, or Real Madrid come calling, they get what they want. ‘It’s just my opinion, but I’ve never got the impression that is part of their analysis of where he is going,’ said Fjortoft.
‘I knew about all the clubs that wanted him when he went to Salzburg and when he went to Dortmund. There were a lot of clubs that wanted him and he chose to go where he would develop. And the speculation about his dad and Roy Keane [meaning they would reject United] …. the team around Erling are much more professional than that.
‘Have a look at the team around him, with Alfie the main man. They are always choosing the place where they could develop and they have always done that. There will probably be a time when they look for other things as well but so far they have always done that. Being born in Leeds, his dad in English football, I always say that I guess Erling will at one time in his career love to play in English football.
Haaland’s dad Alf-Inge (left) and Mino Raiola were spotted arriving in Barcelona on Thursday ahead of transfer talks with the club
After meeting with Barcelona, the pair then reportedly held talks with rivals Real Madrid
‘So far, it’s all about development and the country is not the main thing. That’s why they chose Dortmund. He scored a hat-trick in his first game against Augsburg. I was on German TV that Sunday morning and I said: “I think it’s good to wake up today as a 19-year-old in Dortmund when you scored three on your debut instead of waking up in English football, at this time of your career.”
‘OK, there is unbelievable mania around him now but it is still quite calm in Dortmund. Most people in Norway have no idea where Dortmund is! He’s around young players he’s driving some of these young players like Jude Bellingham and Claudio Reyna to training because they don’t have their driving licence. It’s perfect.
‘The people around him have shown all his career that they have picked the alternative where he can develop most. They did that at Molde they did that at Red Bull Salzburg, they did that at Dortmund. All the time there have been other alternatives.’
Next season his contract has a release clause at €75m (£64m), which would seem extremely cheap in the circumstances and worth hanging on a season to save yourself the best part of £100m. But there is uncertainty as to whether the clause will be legally enfocreable. ‘Clause or no clause, there are processes in football, says Fjortoft.
‘There are two alternatives: Dortmund are in the Champions League next season or Dortmund are not. So let’s say he does make a move in the summer. It’s very interesting to see how clubs come out of this coronavirus time. There is Dortmund losing a lot of money, a number of clubs losing a lot of money.’
The question, which is the one Guardiola posed, is just who has £125m to spend right now. Bear in mind City’s record transfer fee paid is £64m for Ruben Dias, though Kevin De Bruyne may ultimately have cost more once all the instalments had been met. But not significantly more.
The reports that UEFA’s Financial Fair Paly rules will be relaxed may help. But even City, owned by Sheikh Mansour, the deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, may not want to go significantly over £100m post pandemic.
Haaland taunts Sevilla goalkeeper Bono after scoring a penalty past him in Champions League
Fjortoft points out that Dortmund are in the German Cup semi-final, where they play Holstein Kiel and are currently fifth in the Bundesliga [check at full time]. ‘If Dortmund win the Cup and they’re among the top four [and qualify for the Champions League], I would say it’s most likely he stays.
‘If they’re not in the Champions League, Dortmund will still be desperate to keep him. This is their future. But we know football and there are dynamic processes that will happen. I think Dortmund are juts focused in being in the top four and then he will stay another season.’
Haaland has been accused of arrogance, with his one-word answers in TV interviews. And he sparked a mini brawl by celebrating in the face of Sevilla keeper Bono after socring a retaken penalty in the last 16 tie. In mitigation, Bono had done the same to him after saving the first penalty, which was retaken because the goalkeeper was off his line.
‘He has the ‘it’ factor as a player, said Fjortoft. ‘You see that in interviews. That is not arrogance. He just likes to play with journalists. Never ask him a yes or no question because then you get a yes or no answer. When he was asked what did you say to the keeper [Bono, when celebrating] he said: ‘I don’t know. I just told him what he told me.’ He ended up with a yellow card but he’s a great kid.’
Great kid he may be, but all of Europe is scrambling to own him.
The Norwegian superstar has all of Europe scrambling for his signature this summer
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