He may be only 19 years old, but Erling Haaland is set to be one of the major attractions of the second half of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season after joining Borussia Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg.
1) He was born in Leeds
Erling's father and agent Alf-Inge Haaland was also a professional footballer, who played as a midfielder for English Premier League clubs Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Manchester City. Erling was born in Leeds in July 2000, just before his dad switched to City and suffered an infamous horror tackle at the hands of Roy Keane in April 2001, which hastened the end of his career two years later due to knee problems.
Given his birthplace, Haaland Junior could theoretically have played for England, but it was never really on the cards – especially after Alf-Inge, himself a 34-time Norway international, moved back home, eventually coming out of retirement to play two seasons for third-tier Rosseland BK. His son began featuring for the Norway youth teams in 2015, and went on to make his full senior debut in a UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying win over Malta in September 2019. He can still help his country reach the tournament finals in next March's play-offs.
2) He once scored NINE(!) goals in a single game
Haaland's goalscoring exploits with Red Bull Salzburg have made him one of Europe's hottest young prospects, but few players in history can boast of his remarkable achievement against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup in May 2019. The then 18-year-old scored a whopping nine goals – a hat-trick of hat-tricks – as Norway stormed to a 12-0 win in the group stage. They didn't even make it into the knockout stage, but Haaland still managed five more goals than any other player at the tournament and went home with the golden boot.
In that historic encounter against Honduras, Haaland opened the scoring in the seventh minute and simply never looked back, completing his first hat-trick from the penalty spot on 36 minutes and rifling in a fourth before half-time. The rest were netted from close range after the interval, as Haaland secured himself a place in the history books as the player with the most goals in a single U20 World Cup game (improving Adailton's six-goal haul against South Korea from 1997). It was also the competition's biggest-ever win.
3) He made his senior debut at 15
Though he spent the first few years of his life in England, Haaland followed in his father's footsteps by starting his career at Bryne FK. Alf-Inge was born and grew up in the small town on Norway's southwest coast, playing for his hometown club before moving to Nottingham Forest in 1993. He naturally returned to Bryne after his long stint abroad.
Erling was on the club's books as a boy, and worked his way through the ranks, undergoing a serious growth spurt and making a name for himself by netting 18 goals in 14 games for the reserves. That was enough to earn him a first senior outing in May 2016, when he came off the bench in a second-tier league game against Ranheim IL. "He's still young and learning a lot," Alf-Inge said recently. "He's pacy and talented, but it's still a raw talent. So we'll cross our fingers and hope it goes well."
4) He got his first big break under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Solskjaer is one of the most successful Norwegian players of all time, having won six Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League during a glittering 11-year period with Manchester United. Now the club's manager, the 46-year-old was a prolific striker who earned a reputation for changing games from the substitute's bench – no more so than when he grabbed a dramatic injury-time winner against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
So who better to give the fledgling Haaland invaluable advice and encouragement when he made the step up from Bryne to Molde, going on to win the 2018 Eliteserien Breakthrough of the Year award? "Ole had a very big impact on my life and he taught me a lot," Haaland told Red Bull of his early mentor, who also gave him a first taste of top-flight football and was reportedly interested in bringing him to Old Trafford this winter before he plumped for Dortmund. "He's one of the reasons I'm the player I am today. He's a good person and a good coach."
5) He hopes to be the 'next Zlatan'
Given his imposing stature (6'4") and propensity for finding the back of the net, Haaland has already been described in several quarters as 'the next Zlatan Ibrahimovic'. The youngster should have no qualms with such comparisons: "I had a lot of role models and looked up to many footballers, but Zlatan is the biggest one," he admitted. "The way he became so good, the way he plays. He's also Scandinavian, so someone has to take over from him!"
The 38-year-old Swede hasn't hung up his sizeable shooting boots just yet – having rejoined AC Milan on a six-month loan deal – but Haaland is certainly keen to follow the example of a player who has enjoyed success at some of European football's elite: Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC, PSG and Manchester United. "Every football player dreams of playing for one of the best and biggest clubs in the world," the 19-year-old added.
Watch: Haaland's arrival at Dortmund
6) He's already a record breaker
Notwithstanding any lasting damage he might have done to the Honduras U20 team, Haaland has also been terrorising defences in Austria since he joined Salzburg, really hitting his stride at the start of the 2019/20 campaign. He scored 11 goals in the first seven league games – including hat-tricks against Wolfsberger AC and TSV Hartberg – during a blistering start comparable to that of Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewandowski, who was on target 16 times in Bayern's first 11 outings of 2019/20.
Observers suggested Haaland would find it harder going in the Champions League, but he shrugged off any such concerns with a first-half hat-trick on his debut against Genk, with Salzburg romping to a 6-2 win. He became the youngest player in Champions League history to net three goals before half-time, and only the third teenager to do so after Raul and Wayne Rooney. "He's going to become one of the best strikers in the world," teammate Maximilian Wöber promised UEFA.com. "He's just phenomenal."
7) He's a man of few words
That stunning performance against Genk had the football world sitting up and taking notice, although it quickly became apparent that Haaland was a man who preferred to let his feet do the talking. In his post-match interview with UEFA, the Norwegian gave extremely terse answers to the first three questions, although not without a wry smile on his face – he does, after all, have a reputation as a prankster in the dressing room.
He eventually opened up a little, explaining that it would be nice for Salzburg "to be the new Ajax", and enjoy a surprise run deep into the competition. That is no longer possible, but new UEFA regulations mean that Haaland will be eligible to play for Dortmund in their last-16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain in February.
8) His favourite song is… the Champions League anthem
After Haaland's headline-grabbing performance against Genk, Wöber revealed that the Norwegian sensation has a curious way of psyching himself up for big games: "Erling is crazy," the Salzburg centre-back laughed. "Last night our captain was out having a walk with his daughter, when a car pulled up next to him. The driver rolled down the window, and there was Erling, listening to the Champions League anthem!"
It seems to be doing the trick. Haaland scored in five of Salzburg's six games in the competition this term, ending with a group stage tally of eight goals that was surpassed only by Lewandowski (10). "I've been listening to the Champions League theme since I was a little kid, and it's maybe my favourite song," Haaland explained. "Hearing it in the stadium was amazing."
9) He could have joined Hoffenheim
Haaland looks set to become one of the star attractions in the Bundesliga as we head into 2020, although if things had gone differently the teen prodigy could already have been plying his trade in the German top flight with Hoffenheim. The Sinsheim club invited him along for a trial in 2016, but Haaland preferred to join Molde, believing it would be better for his development. The situation had echoes of Ibrahimovic's refusal to join Arsenal in 2000.
Haaland clearly shares the big Swede's voracious appetite for success, too, with one minor nuance – he's determined to outshine his father! "I want to be the best," he said. "And another goal is to be a better player than Dad was. I hope to win more international caps than he did." So that's two down, 33 to go…
10) He's looking forward to getting started with Dortmund
Dortmund's short video announcing Haaland's arrival opened with the highly coveted striker writing out his wish list for 2020: "Learn German. Score more goals. Enjoy the Yellow Wall. Win the derby. Ask for the all-black shirt." BVB's new No.17 will no doubt get a chance to do all that and more during the Rückrunde. He could make his Bundesliga debut when Dortmund travel to Augsburg on 18 January, while the season's second Revierderby against Schalke comes on 14 March – just three days after the second leg away to PSG.
Tweet: Who is writing out their wish list for 2020?
"I had the feeling from an early stage that I really wanted to join this club, and play in the incredible Dortmund atmosphere in front of over 80,000 supporters," he confessed. "I can't wait to get started."
And we can't wait to see you in action, Erling! Roll on 2020.
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