Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a strapping 6ft 4ins 19-year-old Yorkshireman, who was born in Leeds but plays in Austria and is actually Norwegian. Born to a well-known footballing father with a dodgy leg, courtesy of Roy Keane. With a shock of yellow blonde hair and skin that looks smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy and as elastic as rubber, he looks about 14 years old but is built like a marauding Viking. Joined Red Bull Salzburg this season after playing for Molde for a couple of years and immediately hit the ground running with very long legs, breaking all sorts of scoring records. Now there’s talk ofa massive money moveto the never not financially incontinent Premier League.
That’ll be Erling Braut Håland, then
What have they done to deserve this then?
The boy is preternaturally prolific. With ice in his veins, he rarely misses a chance; he’s scored 28 goals in 24 games for Salzburg and has bagged eight in just five Champions League games, with a goal or an assist every 33 minutes.
While it may seem as if he’s arrived fully-formed, he was at Molde for two seasons under the current Manchester United manager who had compared him to Romalu Lukaku in his style of play. The lad won the Eliteserien Breakthrough of the Year award for his 16 goals in 30 games in 2018 for that club.
Moving to Austria this year, he immediately blossomed into a powerful, direct, unerring shotsmith. Between mid-July and mid-September he scored an amazing four hat-tricks.
He’s represented Norway at every level, getting his first senior cap in September. He won the Golden Boot at the FIFA U-20 World Cup where he scored nine(!) in a 12-0 rout of Honduras.
And the record-breaking hasn’t stopped there. He’s also only the second teenager (after Karim Benzema) to score in each of his first three Champions League appearances and the first player ever to score six goals in those three games. His goal against Napoli made him the first teenager to score in four consecutive matches, his goal on Wednesday against Genk furthering that record. Would you bet against him scoring past Liverpool in the final game to make it six? No. Neither would I.
In every competition he’s played this season he’s scored more than a goal per game: 15 in 12 in the league, four in two in the cup and eight in five in the Champions League despite only starting three of those games.
This is no ordinary player. But what exactly is it that makes him so deadly?
If you watch his goals he never takes more than a single touch but more usually just hits it first time. He also scores all sorts of goals, including plenty of tap ins, which speaks of great positional sense.
He also takes penalties which is always going to boost your totals. Full of confidence, he even does that heart-shuddering thing of half-stopping during his run up, to throw the keeper a dummy.
As I wrote aboutRobert Lewandowski, it’s as though he’s just a split second faster of thought than everyone else and that’s what gives him the space to work in. More important still, he also just doesn’t seem to miss the target. In the Champions League his 2.8 shots per game average has resulted in eight goals in just three full games.
That is lethal striking. No wonder he’s on the radar of a lot of clubs.
Even the notoriously inward-looking English tabloid press has noticed this kid, if only because of his father’s leg’s connection to arch tabloid fodder subject Roy Keane and because Manchester United are interested and Manchester United means plenty o’ clickety clickety URLs. Of course, the ‘news’ is all about transfer fee numbers and little on the actual player. Because football doesn’t matter, footballers don’t matter, only transfer fee figures matter.
The Mirror: ‘Man Utd transfer boost as Salzburg deny Erling Haaland release clause exists’
The Express: ‘Haaland Bid Ready (is it in an envelope?)
There are dozens of similar headlines over the last month with figures varying by over £50 million.
Away from the tabloids…
One Football: ‘Haaland shows yet again why he’s football’s hottest talent’
CNN: ‘Erling Braut Håland has ‘potential to be an incredibly great player,’ says Salzburg coach’
Anyone grumpy about it?
Salzburg fans and the many millions of the rest of us who are sick and tired of the richest clubs buying great young talent, like some sort of especially venal cabal of Child Catchers, will look on in disgust as it happens once again. Erling would do well to becautious of signing for Manchester Unitedgiven their well-established recent tradition of importing excellent players and turning them into cart horses.
Leeds fans must be hoping for promotion and seeing the big man joining them. He’s said it’s his dream to win the Premier League with Leeds. It’d be great to think that was a dream that could become a reality, but it seems unlikely any time soon.
What the people say
The Manchester United gossip has probably brought him to the attention of football supporters who wouldn’t normally pay any heed to Austrian football, which is basically almost all of us. But those who have followed his feats these last few months were quick to lavish praise on the boy.
Aloof to the media
Driven on the pitch
— 4_4_haiku (@4_4_haiku)November 29, 2019
‘It’s genuinely scary just how good he could, or rather might, become if this is his base. But for now, it’ll be nice to see him equal Ronaldo’s a-goal-in-every-group-stage-game record.’
‘A move to Man United after just having kicked out Liverpool from the Champions League would always be popular.’
‘That Liverpool match in Salzburg will be very interesting. Unexpectedly, Group E has actually turned out as the most exciting group.’
It’s always a buzz when a new superstar threatens to emerge, especially right at the start when we’re all making our minds up on them and there’s a blur of potential, naivety and fearlessness. He has that knack of knowing where to be in the box. Great touch. Next move is crucial.
— Buck Tarbrush (@Paul_Luke)November 28, 2019
‘Scotland likely will come up against him on route to euro qualifications. I’m not looking forward to it!’
‘A remarkable rise in recent times. I do wonder whether the expectation will harm him, though. Being linked with United is exciting as a fan, but I can’t honestly say it would be the best move for him. We’re a graveyard for player careers, recently.’
What does the future hold?
There’s talk that he can go to fellow Red Bull team Leipzig for around £30million, and that seems like a really good step to make for him. He’ll get more weekly experience against higher quality opposition and his game is obviously going to develop far more under the excellent Julian Nagelsmann than under the less so Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It’s always hard to know if a player who is breaking scoring records left and right is going to be a one-season wonder and this is just some sort of unmatchable purple patch. As football is nothing if not short-term in its ambitions and memory, enslaved to the most sparkling bauble in the shop at any one moment, the worry is always that he moves too soon and to the wrong club and can’t live up to his early career form. He has plenty of time to really establish himself as a top European striker across a couple of seasons and not just three months.
At 19 he’s still really young. Bigger challenges will lie ahead and he should be in no rush to become anyone’s latest huge money signing.
There is a directness, almost an innocent simplicity to his game that is so refreshing. Let’s hope the pressures of Big Money Football, whoever it is with, doesn’t take that out of his game when the shameless and soulless dedication to monetisation starts kneeling on the windpipe of his free and uninhibited expression.
Whatever happens, these months will go down in history as a very special moment in his career and in the history of European football. Let’s enjoy them and him while we can.
If you enjoyed this, feel free to give us some love in the the FSA awards. Head here to vote…