Get to Know Erling Brut Haaland, European Soccer's Next Megastar

The 19-year-old Norwegian has every skill needed to be one of soccer's best players

May 17, 2020 1:34 pm
Haaland Dortmund Star
Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund celebrates scoring his team's first goal against FC Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020.
Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images

As European soccer roared back to life this weekend in Germany’s Bundesliga, fans of the beautiful game were in for a return normalcy sooner than anyone could have expected. Twenty-nine minutes into Borussia Dortmund’s matchup against their heated rivals FC Shalke 04, 19-year-old Norwegian wonderkid Erling Brut Haaland slotted home a beautiful cross from Thorgan Hazard to score the first goal in the league since before the coronavirus pandemic put everything on pause.

The reason it’s not a surprise is because Haaland has been scoring goals with metronomic predictability since joining Dortmund from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in January. In nine league games since joining Dortmund, he’s scored 10 goals in the Bundesliga to go with one goal in his only cup match and two goals against Paris St. Germain in the Champions League. The boy is playing like a man, and the fact that he picked up precisely where he left off despite a two-month layoff is a good sign for the future.

Haaland first caught international attention at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, where he battered poor Honduras in Norway’s 12-0 victory to the tune of nine goals. That’s not a typo: at the age of 18, the Norwegian scored a triple hat trick. Sure, the opposition was clearly overmatched — Norway likely would have won comfortably even if Haaland stayed on the bench — but after that, scouts from Europe’s top clubs began to pay full attention to the son of former Leeds United defender Alf-Inge Haaland.

After a scintillating 24 goals in just half a season with Salzburg, Dortmund won his hotly contested services, and Haaland could not have picked a better spot to grow from a prospect with unlimited potential into the continent-destroying force of nature he has already become. Dortmund has a great history of taking prospects from lower divisions and turning them into world-beaters: Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho, Ilkay Gundogan — the list goes on.

It doesn’t hurt that Haaland is blessed with a combination of physical and technical talents so vast that they are unfair even in video games. He measures 6’4″, so you’d expect him to be a strong target man with limited mobility. But he’s also extremely fast, and not just for his size: look no further than the viral sprint he made past the entire PSG side after clearing a corner in February. While he’s not the world’s best dribbler, he knows and has the ability to get into the right positions and, more importantly, he knows how to finish his chances. See this goal against Union Berlin, that sees him burst forward to find Sancho’s cross for an effortless tap-in:

The scariest part is that he’s, it must be repeated, 19 years old. Sure, there’s a much larger history of teenager wonderkids who flopped later in their careers, but everything surrounding Haaland seems to point at him being more in the mold of PSG star Kylian Mbappé than Bojan Krkic, Barcelona’s once-future Messi who never quite reached that potential. Haaland has the benefit of having a father who went through the travails of professional European soccer to guide him, and he’s at a club that is both giving him every chance to flourish and knows how to nurture his talents until inevitably selling him for a massive profit when one of Europe’s megarich elite clubs comes knocking; Manchester United is already said to be interested in buying him sooner than later.

Since the coronavirus layoff clearly didn’t hamper Haaland’s nose for goal, what can stop him, besides the usual maladies that befall soccer players? Honestly, there’s not much. On the field, he’s as perfect as you can get to a modern striker, reminiscent of Sweden’s egomaniacal legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though not with the same level of dribbling prowess, at least not yet.

Off the field, though, there is one cause for concern, which is that Haaland seems to be supportive of some questionable politics. Fans found that Haaland recently liked a handful of Twitter posts from Donald Trump and Representative Matt Gaetz, most recently mocking COVID-19 safety restrictions. Keep in mind that he’s 19 years old and almost everyone is massively ignorant when it comes to politics at that age, especially another country’s politics. And it’s also important to remember that Twitter likes don’t tell the full story of someone’s ideology.

But Dortmund fans are historically anti-fascist and have been a leading voice in Germany against the far-right, so if there’s any fault to find in Haaland’s rise to megastardom, it’s this. For the time being, Haaland has had his social media profiles scrubbed of those likes and has generally kept a lower-profile there, no doubt the work of an image consultant or PR person. Since liking a few Twitter posts isn’t a damning indictment and — at least in this case — they don’t even have to do with German politics specifically, it’s probable that this will blow over as Haaland keeps scoring goals in bunches.

That’s not a guarantee, but nothing he has done in his 12 games at Dortmund suggests that there’s a demonstrable weakness in his game that opponents ca readily exploit. With his speed, Haaland can be devastating on the counter-attack, but he can also hold up play and win headers if teams play a more deep-lying, conservative defense against Dortmund. Nineteen-year-old strikers aren’t supposed to be this complete and this polished, but Haaland is that and more. If he keeps growing at the rate that he has been, it won’t be long until he’s in talks for the best young player in the world. After that? The sky might not even be the limit for Dortmund’s prized possession.

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