Carnivore: the rise of Erling Haaland

Michael Bergin reviews the early career of Erling Haaland, which has already spectacularly exploded onto the Premier League stage.

Roy Keane surely can’t be blamed for all this, can he? When, in April 2001, the Cork man lashed out with a career-defining (but not necessarily ending) challenge on Alfie Haaland, surely the most disastrous ramifications he could have envisioned were a red card and a light fine. Perhaps even a particularly saucy chapter in his upcoming autobiography.

That his adversary’s son would grow into a footballing deity and ruthlessly strangle any and every backline that came near him, until granted the opportunity to tear Keane’s beloved United a new one, probably wasn’t on the books. And yet, here we are.

It is beyond an understatement to say that Erling Braut Haaland has settled in well to Premier League life. Settling in well at a new job, for the rest of us, would be learning the ropes, making some new friends, and maybe even meeting the boss. Haaland has appointed himself boss, made his friends redundant, and if you want to know what he did with the rope, check in on Manchester United’s back four.

Haaland has, after 9 games, averaged a goal every 54 minutes. His 15 goals in the richest league in the world have come from just 218 touches of the ball. To break that down, that means that roughly 1 in every 14 of his touches puts the ball in the back of the net. The numbers are frightening, but perhaps the most terrifying one is his age: 22. Already, Haaland has scored the same amount of Premier League hat-tricks as Cristiano Ronaldo, Heung-Min Son, Romelu Lukaku, Jamie Vardy, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, and has become the first player to score a hat-trick for Manchester City in the derby with Manchester United since 1970.

In his short career so far, he has played 131 league games, for Molde, Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund, and City, scoring 108 goals. His Champions League record is even better, with 28 goals in 22 games. 

Put simply, the kid is what would happen if your custom player from FIFA 13, who had 100 pace, finishing and strength, was brought to life and put on steroids.

Beginning his career by coming through the youth system at Bryne, the hometown club of his father, before playing for the reserve and senior teams, Haaland moved to Molde in 2017, where he was managed by fellow Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

It was here that Haaland began to show serious potential, and developed his game as an all-out traditional striker, who could score with any body part legally allowed to touch the ball. The sheer size of his 6ft 5 frame created a domineering presence in the box, which soon began to draw attention from larger European clubs. 

A move to Red Bull Salzburg in January 2019 saw him get his first Champions League minutes, and inevitably, goals, as he cemented himself as one of the brightest upcoming future stars in European football. It was also this year when Haaland’s exploits as a maverick goalscorer produced one of the most bizarre stories of the year.

Norway’s U20 World Cup campaign in Poland saw them knocked out at the group stages, however, Haaland still claimed the golden boot for the tournament. Even more bizarre is that he only scored in one of their three group matches. And boy, did he score. 9 goals in a 12-0 demolition of Honduras earned him not just the accolade, but a serious spot on every major European club’s watchlist.

In December of that year, Haaland completed a move to Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, debuting there in January 2020. Here we find another ridiculous statistic, as having played just 56 minutes over the course of January, he nonetheless scored 5 goals, winning the player of the month award. 

It was at Dortmund that the Haaland myth as we know it began to take shape. Dschingis Khan’s “Moskau” found a new life as one of the Westfalenstadion’s most recognisable compositions, the “zen” pose joined the ranks of football’s most annoying celebrations, and pundits began to talk of a Haaland-Mbappé rivalry in much the same way as the Ronaldo-Messi debates of old. And while all of this was going on, there were goals.

Lots and lots of goals.

After cementing himself as a top-priority target for any club serious about winning the Champions League, Haaland announced in May 2022 that he would be off to his father’s old club, Manchester City, to do just that. Making his debut in an anticlimactic community shield loss to Liverpool, the initial prospects for his future were cast into doubt. Sure, he could do it in a so-called “farmer’s league”, but could he really make an impact in the toughest league in the world?

I think the fact that I’m writing this article answers that question.

Haaland has only scored three fewer goals this season than the rest of the City team combined, and has scored more goals than 14 of the Premier League’s sides. Picking up the Player of the Month award has become little more than a formality.

If Manchester City are ever going to make the leap to the next level and win Europe’s elite club competition, then there seems to be no more likely season to do so than at present. Pep Guardiola will know that this was the driving reason behind his appointment, and years of bitter disappointment in the competition cannot continue. With a player of Haaland’s calibre leading a team that is already doused in world-class talent, it is difficult to see how anything less than at least a semi-final would be justifiable to those in charge at the Etihad.

There have been good starts before, but never one like this. In terms of ruthlessness, aggression, strength, speed, accuracy and a robotic capacity to find the back of the net, Haaland stands virtually in a class of his own at present.