By Kartikeya Bhattacharyya
New Delhi, Jan 12 (IANS) With speculation over Borussia Dortmund’s contract talks with its 21-year-old star striker Erling Haaland getting more intense by the day, the Norwegian prodigy has become the new poster boy of global football. And the reason isn’t only the striker’s present form — 19 goals and five assists in 17 league appearances in the ongoing 2021/22 season.
It seems ever since Haaland touched down on a football pitch, he was always meant to be up there. When he was just 15 years old, Haaland scored 18 goals in 14 games for hometown club Byrne FK’s reserve side. Then, at 16, he was snapped up by Molde, one of Norway’s top clubs, for whom he went on to score 14 goals in 39 games, an impressive rate considering his age.
This was nothing compared to what was to come. The Norwegian truly broke through in the 2019 U-20 World Cup, becoming the top scorer of the competition as well as scoring an astounding nine goals in a single game against Honduras.
By this point in his career Haaland was with Austria’s RB Salzburg, for whom he scored 17 goals in just 16 games to secure the biggest transfer of his career so far to Borussia Dortmund.
When he moved to Dortmund, there was a lot of scepticism about what the striker could do now that he had arrived at one of Europe’s top leagues. The question being asked then was whether he could take the big step up after impressing in his debut Champions League campaign with Salzburg.
Since those early days in the spotlight, Haaland has gone from strength to strength, scoring goals seemingly at will — he has scored 23 goals in his 19 Champions League outings thus far — and generating interest from all of Europe’s top clubs with rumours of them being prepared to fork out as much as 175 million euros to secure his services.
Haaland’s prodigious talent can be explained by the fact that his father, Alf Inge, was also a fairly decorated player who played for Leeds United and Manchester City. He has also been instrumental in his son’s career, carefully managing him to ensure he landed in the best place for his development.
There was a time when he was at Salzburg, it was rumoured that Haaland was joining Manchester United and Juventus. It is common for a lot of young prospects to be tempted into signing for these big clubs early on in their career, only for them to regret it as they were not given the proper time to develop.
But unlike a lot of other agents, Alf Inge has been there and done that, and knew that going to these super teams was a big risk. Instead, he made sure his son landed at Dortmund, which is a club renowned for nurturing young prospects into top superstars. This careful management of his career is something that separates the 21-year-old from other rising stars.
Another thing that separates Haaland from other talents of his age group is his decision-making skills. Undoubtedly, Haaland is an athletic specimen combining a monstrous 6-foot-4-inch frame with a top speed of 36.04 km/h, but it is not uncommon for other youngsters to have raw natural gifts such as his.
What is uncommon is for them to combine their natural talent with decision-making skills of a veteran. That is exactly what Haaland does.
This season, the Norwegian has taken a total of 4.3 shots per game in the Bundesliga, out of which 3.9 are in the box, showing efficiency that others of his age group just do not possess. Other comparable young talents have the habit of taking ill-advised long-shots. Haaland, on the other hand, takes almost all his shots in areas where they are way more likely to go in.
He exudes supreme confidence on the pitch, as he’s the talisman of both his club and national team, leading Norway’s “golden generation” consisting of Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard and Brentford’s Kristoffer Ajer, scoring 12 goals in 15 appearances for his country, showing that he’s unfazed by the considerable pressure of playing under his national flag.
These attributes make him set to be the next anointed star of football, separating him from the rest of the pack, with only one notable exception being French superstar Kylian Mbappe.
The two seem to be the next big rivalry of football after Ronaldo and Messi, as Mbappe’s talent is comparable, but he has the advantage, unlike Haaland, of playing for the side that won the 2018 World Cup. And he continues his development, being an important member of the French national team, into one of Europe’s best young attackers — and maybe even one of the continent’s best players.
One can never know for sure what the future holds, but it seems a certainty that these two will be competing for the title of world’s best for years to come.