He was integrated slowly into the squad at Salzburg, where Moanes Dabour was their star striker in the 2018-19 season. The Israeli’s incredible return of 37 goals in 48 games meant he was impossible to drop, but also saw Sevilla come calling in the summer of 2019.
Haaland played just five games from January to May for the Red Bulls, before travelling to Poland for the Under-20 World Cup. There, he made history by scoring nine goals in Norway’s 12-0 win over Honduras, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer.
When he returned to Salzburg, head coach Marco Rose had left for Borussia Monchengladbach, with American manager Jesse Marsch taking the reins.
The former Red Bulls New York manager installed Haaland as his first-choice striker after Dabour’s exit and was rewarded with six goals in the first four league games of the season.
“The first thing that comes to mind about Erling Haaland: He is a professional! It’s fun to work with him. He comes to training every day with a lot of energy. I like guys like that,” Marsch told Goal and DAZN.
“The positive effect he gave to our whole group was massive. If he needs a little help, we are always there for him. But he also has his family, his father, a really solid foundation to understand how to deal with these moments.”
The rapid start at Salzburg did not go unnoticed back home and Haaland was drafted into the Norway senior squad, making his debut in September 2019.
He made his Champions League debut a fortnight later, and with that came more history. After scoring a hat-trick against Genk, Haaland scored in the next four group games to become the first teenager and only the fifth player ever to score in five consecutive Champions League matches.
The trips away with Salzburg further boosted his international profile, but also gave him more time for personal and professional development. Red Bulls team-mate Maxmilian Wober recalls how Haaland would study instead of playing games.
“He is an absolute top professional. While we are playing cards on trips away, you can only see him reading some scientific articles on how he can improve his sleep or diet. He is always looking for the smallest details that he can improve to take another step forward,” Wober told Goal and DAZN.
“He is the same guy I met before his eight Champions League goals in the summer. He’s crazy insane, but that’s what makes him so good.”
If the best teams in Europe were unable to stop Haaland, neither were the teams back in Austria. By the time the winter break rolled around, the 19 year old had scored 28 goals in 22 games in all competitions for the Red Bulls, including five hat-tricks.
Keeping him in Salzburg would prove impossible as a result, with Manchester United, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund all heavily interested.
“It was neither our plan nor our wish to lose Erling in winter,” Freund admitted.
“However, his development between July and December 2019 was so extraordinary and spectacular that it could not be predicted or planned in this way.”
Borussia Dortmund activated his €20 million (£17m/$22m) release clause, beating United and Leipzig to his signature after all three clubs held meetings with the player, his father and agent Mino Raiola.
Dortmund offered the striker the best chance of regular game time as they promised to make him their first-choice striker, something Alf-Inge Haaland admits is crucial to his development.
“Erling has been very lucky with good coaches and team-mates,” Haaland told Goal.
“He is still learning. He loves to score goals but has also improved a lot in build-up play. It’s not one specific moment, but a lot of hard work from him and also having a career plan for him regarding clubs where young players will get the chance to play. Playing time is the most important thing for him.”
Borussia Dortmund already had forward Paco Alcacer on the books, but saw Haaland as such a generational talent, that they were willing to offload the Spain international to give the Norwegian teen an even better chance of success.
CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke says that they had been looking for someone with Haaland’s particular skill set for a long time and could not pass up the opportunity to sign him.
“We always wanted to have a centre-forward who has a different way of playing football,” Watzke told Goal and DAZN. “But this guy also had to come onto the market first.
There are not many who are 1.94 metres (6 ft 4 in) tall and that fast. Actually, nobody else comes to mind. It was just an opportunity that you don’t get very often.
“I’ve been following his path a little longer. I first met him in December. I think we both quickly felt that it could fit. He is still very young, but has great determination. He has the right physical attributes and is extremely focused. It is certainly good for us. Basically Scandinavian players are very motivated, very hungry for success and very decent guys. Erling embodies all of this. He is flawless in character and has an irrepressible desire. It is a good story.”
Haaland’s Dortmund story got off to the perfect start with the most incredible debut against Augsburg. Trailing 3-1, Lucien Favre sent on the teenager from the bench and was rewarded with a 22-minute hat-trick to help secure a 5-3 win.
Fitness concerns meant that he started on the bench again a week later, but that was not enough to stop the tide of goals as Haaland scored twice more as a substitute against Koln. The second of those two goals highlighted his undoubted talent as he was able to turn the ball in from an impossible angle.
Since arriving in Germany, he has nine goals in six games for Dortmund and is now their guaranteed starter in attack. The initial performances earned Haaland even more media attention, but team-mate Roman Burki does not think the teenager lets any of it in.
“When a young player gets hyped so much and is world famous at 19, it can be difficult,” Burki told Goal and DAZN.
“But he’s a cool guy who knows what it’s about. Erling is very professional. I’m always one of the first at the training centre, but he is there earlier. He also comes to the training centre on days off. He knows what is important and good for him.”
Haaland never stops looking at ways to improve his overall game. He has already succeeded at every level he has played at, scoring hat-tricks for fun in the past year.
He faces the biggest test of his career on Tuesday as Borussia Dortmund play Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout stage, but few would bet against him seamlessly stepping up to this level too.
Translated by Ronan Murphy
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