In just 90 minutes 19-year-old Erling Braut Håland established himself as one of world football’s brightest young stars.
His performance against Honduras at this summer’s Under-20 World Cup was the stuff of fantasy. By half time the Red Bull Salzburg forward had struck four goals for Norway, a fine achievement in itself. But in the second period, Håland and his team-mates accelerated.
The teenager scored another five times, several of which were thunderous finishes. He ended the game having found the net on nine occasions. Norway, somewhat unsurprisingly, recorded the biggest win in Under-20 World Cup history: 12-0.
“It is hard to put it into words,” Håland said after the game. “So there is no point in saying too much about it. You know… it was fun. But I think first and foremost we should have scored more as a team and I should have ten goals, but I am happy with nine.”
Håland trended across social media in the aftermath of the game. A star had been born. But those who had followed Håland’s career a little more closely would not have been overly surprised.
English football fans will be familiar with Alf-Inge Håland, the former Leeds United and Manchester City midfielder whose career was cut short after a horror challenge by former Manchester United captain Roy Keane.
A versatile and combative midfielder, it was while Alf-Inge played at Elland Road that Erling Braut was born. He grew up supporting Leeds and remains a fan of the club to this day despite the family moving back to Norway in the mid-2000s.
“My dream would be to win the Premier League with Leeds,” the younger Håland said in an interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposte in 2017. “And my goal is to become a better player than Dad was. I hope to play more international matches than he did too.”
Could that be with England? The young striker is a born Yorkshireman, after all. “I don’t know if they want me or if it’s just the media who are saying this,” he said after his nine-goal haul. “But I’m a Norwegian and I’m proud of it.”
Norway deserve Håland; it’s the country’s youth coaches, coupled with his dad’s guidance, which have shaped his fledgling career.
He spent his formative years in the academy system at Bryne and made his senior debut for the club at just 15 years old. He would feature sporadically for the first team during the 2016 season – a campaign that ended in relegation for the club from 1.divisjon – before he secured a move to Molde in February 2017.
Still only 16 years old, Håland was eased into the team by Ole Gunnar Solskjær. He started just three Eliteserien games in his first season, the future Manchester United boss keen to ensure the forward’s development wasn’t rushed.
In 2018, however, Solskjær unleashed Håland. He scored 12 times in just 17 starts, including a 22-minute four-goal haul against Brann in front of scouts from several European giants.
“He can become a top striker for sure,” Solskjær said in July 2018. “He reminds me of the type of striker Romelu Lukaku is. There is a lot of interest in him. We have had offers from good clubs this year, Champions League clubs, but we rejected them.”
A month later it was announced Håland would join Red Bull Salzburg in January 2019. “He is one of the greatest talents in European football,” the Austrian club’s sporting director Christoph Freund said. “He joins despite offers from several major clubs and indicates we’ve made a good name for ourselves in Europe.”
Håland was handed his debut for Salzburg in February but made only one more first-team appearance last season – he started against LASK and grabbed his first goal for the club. Again, he was eased into his new environment.
The 2019/20 campaign will see the 19-year-old handed far more responsibility, though. First-choice forward Moanes Dabbur has left for Sevilla and Fredrik Gulbrandsen has joined İstanbul Başakşehir. Their goals, 37 and 12 respectively last term, will need to be replaced.
Håland has demonstrated with Norway that he can fill the void. He is the perfect modern-day forward; a hybrid of raw physicality and subtle technique. At 6ft 4ins he can bully the most grizzled and experienced centre-backs yet can also skip beyond them with a burst of pace that belies a man of his size.
With the ball, he has the quick-feet of a diminutive winger and the raw power of an NFL running back; in his final season in Norway, he was eighth among attackers for dribbles completed per 90 (1.52). Håland also possesses the unselfishness and creative eye of a No.10 and was eighth for assists per 90 (0.23) in the Eliteserien in 2018.
However, it’s the striker’s finishing ability which is his USP. Håland is capable of striking the ball so cleanly and accurately with his left foot that few goalkeepers can react quickly enough to stop his attempts.
He doesn’t use this ability to take continuous pot-shots from distance, though. Every one of his goals for Molde in 2018 came inside the penalty area and he also averaged 5.98 touches in the opposition 18-yard box per 90, the third-highest figure among forwards.
It indicates Håland is a consistent danger in the penalty box, something which Honduras discovered this summer.
“Erling can go very far,” Pål Arne Johansen, Norway’s Under-20s coach, said. “He is in a very good place at the moment. He plays for a big team in Austria, one who will play in the Europa League or maybe Champions League.
“After that he can get to a club at the very top level.”