They say it takes years of hard work to become an overnight sensation, and nobody sums that up better than Erling Braut Haaland.
Son of former Manchester City and Leeds United star Alf Inge, and born during his time at Elland Road, the 19-year-old Norwegian became known in his own right in an instant. Joining Raul and Wayne Rooney as a teenage hat-trick scorer in the Champions League against Genk in September propelled the Red Bull Salzburg striker into the stratosphere, and his stock has only risen since.
As often happens with players who are showing his kind of form at such a young age, speculation over his future has intensified and almost every big European club has been credited with an interest in his signature.
To his credit, Haaland hasn’t slowed down at all since that night, a 6-2 win on his competition debut. Though the Austrian Bundesliga doesn’t attract much attention from the mainstream media, and some doubters have used a supposedly sub-par standard to diminish his incredible record this season, scoring 15 goals in it and a further seven in Europe is undeniably impressive.
Such is the intensity of the rumours surrounding him, and the certainty that teams will look to test Salzburg’s resolve, it seems almost inevitable that Haaland will be moving on sooner rather than later. Salzburg will know that; they’ve built a reputation on developing players and selling them on for a huge profit, but the bright lights of Liverpool, Manchester, Barcelona and Madrid may not be what is best for Haaland. Not yet, anyway.
Jurgen Klopp has reportedly been keeping an eye on him since before he scored in a 4-3 defeat at Anfield this season, while Manchester City are an obvious link due to his father’s connections. Across the city, United have been a prominent name in the conversation, too; though the family’s previous allegiances would usually cast doubt over a switch to Old Trafford, Haaland spent 18 months with Molde under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has a rather big striker-shaped hole in his squad.
Erling Haaland has seven goals in four Champions League appearances so far this season…
Given he's only played 271 minutes, this works out at 2.3 goals per 90 mins… pic.twitter.com/pHqoc6unGd
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) November 8, 2019
On the face of it, Haaland fits the bill, while La Liga’s ‘big two’ are always on the lookout for the next world superstar. But everyone, from the player himself, those around him and his current club must think carefully about the future; many players with similar levels of quality have made too big of a step at this stage of their careers. It is vital that nobody gets caught up in the hype; he is the flavour of the month, but not yet the finished article.
Joining an elite club is more about off the pitch than it is on it; the interest and pressure trebles in an instant, and because a player like Haaland will command an astronomical fee in the current market, patience won’t be forthcoming. The investment and need for an instant return will become the narrative rather than the fact he is still learning; it is better to outgrow surroundings than be consumed by them, and that should be the driving force behind Haaland’s next move. It should be remembered that he only joined Salzburg in January; he doesn’t have to leave Austria instantly. Doing so off the back of an impressive first year runs the risk of failing to live up to a pre-written story, but if he does depart in the next year or two, he should go to a club that will aid his development.
Two sides that have been linked without much fanfare are RB Leipzig and Napoli, and they arguably make more sense than Liverpool or either Manchester club. Leipzig, like Salzburg, are part of Red Bull’s football project; the two have often shared players in the past, and a move to Germany will offer a gradual step up, where he will feed off the same values, but be exposed to a greater standard of football in a bigger league, without constant scrutiny from the national press who are more interested in Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Likewise, Napoli are currently in the shadow of Juventus and Inter in Serie A, and though Carlo Ancelotti is under pressure right now, he has helped Mexican Hirving Lozano settle at the Stadio San Paolo since his move from PSV Eindhoven. The 24-year-old has a bright future ahead of him and was the subject of interest from Real Madrid after an impressive World Cup in 2018, but he has been allowed the chance of a slow burn as he enters his peak. This is an example Haaland should follow.
This is not to say Haaland cannot play for one of the biggest clubs in the world one day, nor is it suggesting he wouldn’t be supported at one now. But the issues would be out of anyone’s control; were he to play all the time and struggle, he would be criticised for his performances; were he to be a bit-part player, questions of why he wasn’t playing would be asked. It would be better for him to shoulder the responsibility of making that move when he is ready for it.
Haaland is showing what he is all about and impressing more and more by the week, especially in the Champions League. If he continues, he’ll soon be playing at the very top; but there is a lot of work to be done if he is to fulfil the potential being recognised now and the wrong move could be hugely damaging. Instead of taking huge leaps forward, the teenager should stay grounded and take smaller steps; it could mean he goes even further in the long run.
Harry De Cosemo – follow him on Twitter