Erling Haaland: The English-born Champions League sensation

Luke Bradshaw
Sports Writer
Erling Haaland celebrates after scoring (Photo by David Geieregger/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

For fans of a certain vintage, the name is a familiar one. Erling Braut Haaland is the son of Alf-Inge Haaland, who spent 10 years in England playing for Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Manchester City.

Last night, the RB Salzburg forward announced himself on the world stage with an astonishing first-half hat-trick against Genk in the Champions League. Even at this embryonic stage of his career, he’s in danger of overshadowing his dad.

The facial similarity between father and son is clear to see, but the physical stature and style of play couldn’t be more different. While the 5ft 10in ‘Alfie’ patrolled back fours, or just in front, Erling is a 6ft 4in monster who looks like he’s been built in a lab; a target man with more pace than most of his ilk and a hefty strike to boot. Alfie managed 18 goals during his decade in England, Erling has more than that this season already.

Haaland junior was a promising, if unspectacular boy, when Ole Gunnar Solskjær managed him at Molde. He’s now a 19-year-old, hulking centre-forward lighting up football’s premier club competition.

His 16 goals at Molde last season was enough to earn him a move to RB Salzburg in the summer and on Tuesday night, in his side’s 6-2 win over Genk, he became the youngest player in Champions League history to score a first-half hat-trick.

This season he has 17 goals in nine games and having represented Norway at every age group level, he made his debut for the senior side earlier this year. At the Under-20 World Cup earlier this year, he scored nine goals in a single game.

Celebrating nine goals at the U-20 World Cup (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, or hear him talk, but Erling was born in Leeds and spent his formative years in West Yorkshire. He was even once quoted as saying his dream is “to win the Premier League with Leeds”.

With RB Salzburg drawn in the same Champions League group as Liverpool, along with Genk and Napoli, it’s only a matter of weeks before we see him playing again in the country of his birth.

Seven games into the Austrian domestic season, thanks to Haaland’s prolific form, RB Salzburg are already five points clear at the top. They’ve won every game and scored 34 goals in the process. In the last 13 years they’ve won the league title on 10 occasions, including the last six.

Given the club’s domestic dominance, their aims for this season have a continental twist. But getting through a group that contains two of the best sides in the competition, including the champions, will be a tremendous ask.

More performances like last night’s will certainly help matters. Haaland’s ludicrous goal-scoring feats are certainly with an eye of propelling them to the knock-out stages, while Europe’s biggest clubs will be starting to put a price on his talents.

Father Alf Inge Haaland at Man City (Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

His move to Austria was a sensible one – Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen both made formal offers for him, but he opted for Salzburg instead. He has been immediately inserted as the club’s star player and is revelling in the responsibility.

Had he gone to one of Europe’s giants his game time would have been limited, and he might even have been loaned out elsewhere, so the plan for progression appears to have been the right one thus far.

That said, it’s difficult to see him staying in Salzburg beyond a season, two at most, although he is contracted with the club until 2023. The fact that his agent is Mino Raiola, the Italian guiding the careers of, among others, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba and Matthijs de Ligt, further suggests he won’t be setting up home to retire in Austria 15 years from now.

After last night’s mauling of Genk, Erling’s teammate Maximilian Wöber, said: “He is phenomenal. With his height, to be so nimble and have such command of the ball. It’s really hard to play against him in training – you just have to foul him. Once again he proved why he’s definitely going to become one of the best strikers in the world.”

His manager, Jesse Marsch, echoed that sentiment, although highlighted his work ethic, more than than on-the-field talent. He said: “He is a great player but even more important for me is that he’s a great young man.

“He shows up every day, he works hard and takes nothing for granted. He gives everything for his teammates every day and does it with a smile.”

And why wouldn’t he? The future looks particularly bright for football’s next wonderkid and for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, who host RB Salzburg on October 2nd, the warning shots have bee well and truly fired, all 19 of them.

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