If Erling Haaland’s focus ever seemed in doubt, a drive with him would prove otherwise.
“He’s crazy,” Salzburg captain Andreas Ulmer said earlier this year and perhaps with good reason.
Ulmer was walking his dog one day he stumbled across his Norwegian teammate, the Champions League theme blasting from the windows of his car. Understandably, Haaland enjoys the iconic theme. 2019 has represented a nigh perfect return for Haaland -- 6 group games played, eight goals scored.
“I try to be mostly relaxed on the field and outside the field and in training, but you also have to be focused,” Haaland told ESPN FC. “I try to play my own game and enjoy the game.”
Only Liverpool, on matchday 6, stopped Haaland from finding the scoresheet in every game. It is a similar story for Haaland domestically where he was 16 goals in 14 Austrian Bundesliga games.
It wasn’t always this way, however. At first club, Bryne FK Haaland didn’t manage to score a goal (granted he was just 15-years-old when he made his debut). That’s also why stats tell half the story. For those who trained alongside him, it was apparent there was an exceptional talent waiting to emerge.
“You could see he was very talented,” Pål Fjelde, a teammate at Bryne told iNews in September. “I think there were expectations on him because of his dad [former Leeds and Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland], but he was always the best player in his age group. Even when they were ten years old, he was the best player on his team. From a very young age, he showed his potential.”
It is evidence of how well Haaland is done that mention of his father, Alf-Inge Haaland, comes someway down the list of talking points. Born in Leeds, Erling has already jokingly said he aims to be better than his father. He has also professed a desire to win the Premier League with Leeds, something even the most optimistic fan at Elland Road would call ambitious.
What seems likely is a move to the Premier League. Haaland has professed an appreciation for English football (his father spent ten years in England across three clubs).
In October, he confirmed he spurned advances from Juventus to sign for RB Salzburg. The thinking was simple; Haaland had just enjoyed a breakout season with Norwegian side Molde FK, managed by his great mentor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A move to Juventus, while illustrious, would likely present few first-team opportunities.
The Old Lady counts Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, and Cristiano Ronaldo, among their forward options. As such, it is unlikely we’d have witnessed his current form had he moved to Turin. That will be considered great news for Manchester United. The Red Devils have long admired Haaland. Their need for a number 9 coupled with Solskjaer’s history with the forward makes it a straightforward story to write, regardless of veracity.
The news that Haaland also has a release clause in his contract will also speed things along. According to Bild, the 19-year-old can leave Salzburg for just €20m. In today’s market, it represents tremendous value, and will likely see some form of deal agreed come January.
Just what teams are getting still appears to be a slight bone of contention. At 6ft 4, it is easy to portray Haaland as the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The truth is, he’s a wildly different player when compared to the Swede. Speak to those at Bryne, and they point to an intelligence and maturity that set Haaland apart. It was not his physical gifts that made him some dangerous, but his positioning and his tendency to position himself on the shoulder of a defender, hiding in plain sight (watch his goal at Anfield or his first at home to Napoli for evidence of this).
Given Haaland’s goal-scoring exploits, it is easy to get carried away. On the evidence of this season, the striker has not only physical gifts but many of the mental attributes we associate with top-strikers (composure, determination, etc.). When he does finally move, his most significant test will be adjusting to a rise in quality, as well as the attention afforded him (his Champions League form should allay those fears somewhat).
January promises to be a new year and a fresh start for everyone. It will also likely commence a great race to secure Haaland’s signature, one that will leave many clubs disappointed. His Champions League journey with Salzburg may have ended midweek, but if one thing seems assured it is that the Norwegian is destined for bigger things (and a lot of evenings listening to that theme music).