When Erling Haaland burst onto the Champions League stage, everybody in the world of football immediately sat up and took notice.
Playing in European football’s premier competition is supposed to be hard. Haaland made it look anything but.
In September 2019, then 19 years old, the Norwegian sensation bagged a hat-trick for Salzburg on his debut in the Champions League. But this was no ordinary hat-trick.
Haaland’s first goal came after just two minutes, and he completed the treble before the referee had even blown for half time.
Upon signing for Borussia Dortmund in January 2020, Haaland showed no signs of slowing down and began to break numerous Champions League records.
No player in the competition’s history has reached 10 goals in fewer games than Haaland; he became the first player to score multiple goals in four consecutive matches; and the Norwegian is the youngest player to reach 20 goals.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Raul and Zlatin Ibrahimovic are just some of the all-time great forwards to have graced the Champions League. Yet Haaland eclipsed them all in their early days.
And since his debut in the Champions League, only Benzema and Robert Lewandowski have scored more goals than Haaland.
It’s not just in the Champions League that Haaland has been breaking records. He scored a hat-trick on his debut for Dortmund in the Bundesliga and went on to become the youngest player to reach 50 goals in the German top flight.
Former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, who was the first Norwegian to play in the Premier League, says these remarkable goalscoring exploits should come as no surprise.
“He’s a physical monster,” Thorstvedt told CNN’s Don Riddell. “He can run so fast, he’s brutal physically, he can brush people off, but he needs to get to know the patterns that Man City work from.
“He’s really driven, really ambitious. He’s got his own coaches working on his physique … I think those strikers are a special kind of breed, they just want goals and I think he wants to win the Golden Boot and I think he wants to win the Ballon d’Or one day.”
Now that Haaland’s move to Manchester City is confirmed, ending one of the most hotly-contested transfer sagas in recent memory, it’s easy to imagine opposition managers and defenders losing sleep over the prospect of facing him.
After all, City is a team that has scored the joint most goals in the Premier League this season—89 along with Liverpool—without playing a recognized striker.
At times—notably in the crucial 2–2 draw against Liverpool at the Etihad—onlookers have lamented City’s lack of an outright ‘No. 9’ to put away the numerous chances Pep Guardiola’s team creates.
While this is perhaps an oversimplification of some of City’s issues going forward, there are certainly occasions when a player with Haaland’s skill set would have profited in front of goal.
But playing for Guardiola can be notoriously complicated. The Spaniard is known for being one of the greatest tactical minds in history, with some players—see Jack Grealish this season—arguably struggling to get to grips with Guardiola’s philosophy and style.
While Haaland no doubt boasts the physical attributes to thrive in the Premier League, Thorstvedt says adapting to Guardiola’s style may prove to be trickier.
“He’s going to bring goals, of course, loads of them, but he also needs to get into Pep’s thinking, the way Man City play,” he says. “There are others in that team who are better with skill, close control, that rotation when players are moving around the pitch.
“He [Haaland] can do that, but not as well as the others. “It’s also fair to ask: How much better can Man City really get? I mean, can they really get that many more points in the Premier League? Can they really score that many more goals?
“But I think there’s still some margins to be gained and obviously the big thing is the Champions League, if they win that next season with Erling in the team, obviously everybody’s going to point to him as the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle. Finally, they got him and they got the trophy.”
While Thorstvedt says that Haaland “really looks forward” to working under the “football genius” Guardiola, his Dortmund teammate Marco Reus has seen first hand for more than two years the incredible potential the 21-year-old will bring to Manchester City.
Guardiola’s side crumbled spectacularly once again in the Champions League this season, conceding two goals in two minutes at the end of the 90—then again at the start of extra time—as it was eliminated by Real Madrid.
There were chances for City late in the second leg of that semifinal that it’s hard to image Haaland missing and Reus describes the forward’s skill set as being exactly what Guardiola’s side needed in that moment when things began to fall apart.
“Energy. A lot of energy,” Reus told CNN’s Darren Lewis of Haaland’s attributes. “Lots of positive things, confidence. As a young player you’re just carefree, you don’t worry so much. When he arrived, we just saw his energy, which has … actually has increased.
“He, of course, has also become a little bit more experienced with time because he has played a lot of games. He definitely has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the world. He’s still incredibly young. He’s got an incredible amount ahead of him.”