Football

Top of the class

How do you know when a youngster is ready to make the step up? What sets the most talented apart at an early age and what’s the key to ensuring they fulfil their potential? We turned to the youth coaches of Dortmund ace Erling Braut Haaland, Chelsea’s new generation and Atlético Madrid prospect João Félix to find out

WORDS Simon Hart, Dan Poole, Carlos Machado | ILLUSTRATION Dan Evans
‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

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‘I NEVER EXPECTED IT TO MOVE AS FAST AS IT DID’

JOÃO FÉLIX

It is easy to forget the little things when a young footballer begins a new adventure in a new country. In the case of João Félix and his move last summer to Atlético Madrid, one is his admission that he has already taken “five different routes” when driving from his home, owing to the challenge of getting oriented in the Spanish capital.

For all his reliance on GPS, there is little danger of him losing his bearings where it matters most, according to one man who knows the 20-year-old well.

João Tralhão was the U19 coach who helped oversee Félix’s development as a teenager at Benfica, giving him a first taste of UEFA Youth League football aged just 16, and he believes the player’s attitude will help him cope with the inevitable bumps in the road. He offers an example from an occasion when the player stepped down from Benfica’s B team to play a match for the U19s, just to underline that here is a young man with sound sensibilities.

“João came from the B team, which has a kit man and all the good things that the first team have, to play in the finals of a junior tournament,” he begins. “We had groups of players to carry equipment onto the pitch and other groups to bring it in after training, but when he left the dressing room he saw that a team-mate had forgotten the water and some other things – and he turned up on the training pitch with the water and the bibs. No one had asked him, and the first thing he said was, ‘Don’t fine my team-mate – someone had put them in the wrong place and he didn’t see them.’”

For Tralhão, this willingness to muck in is a reflection of a “balanced, grounded” individual who had the benefit of a “very well-organised family structure around him”. And in the mind of a youth coach, that ticked a very big box. “He was a humble kid wanting to learn each day,” Tralhão continues. “He had an excellent capacity for judging what was said to him – he would sense and know what was very important. He feels and knows what’s good for him and what’s irrelevant.”

Shutting out the noise is more important than ever following his reported €126m transfer to Atlético. Félix admits that he “never expected it to move as fast as it did” and that the spotlight which comes with such a fee is not necessarily easy. “I wasn’t used to that. I was the centre of attention and I wasn’t used to it.”

Which is where that support network proves vital. “Everyone close to me tries to keep my feet on the ground,” says the Portugal forward. Yet he ascribes his mature outlook to one thing above all: another, earlier departure, when he left the family home in Viseu as a young boy to head 80km north to join Porto’s youth ranks. “I think that leaving home aged 11 helped me a lot. It made me more responsible from an early age.” He recalls long days starting with journeys to school at 7am and late-night returns after football. “It’s helped me a lot nowadays with regards to responsibility and the pressure that’s there.”

It was this mental side that meant Tralhão did not hesitate to fast-track Félix following his arrival at Benfica in 2015/16. Even though the newcomer “wasn’t physiologically ready to play in the junior team”, Tralhão and his fellow coaches saw a boy with vast potential. “The difference was not only his talent, but his game understanding and his competitive mentality.

“There are players,” he adds, “who tend to create mechanisms that will mitigate their performance. And others who, feeling the pressure – and everybody feels it –develop mechanisms that allow them to be stronger.” In the case of Félix, he fitted in the latter category. “His focus level is exceptional. I recall a game at Porto, his former club, where people knew his value, people knew who João Félix was, in a hostile environment due to the clubs’ huge rivalry. At these moments he tended to be stronger, to be more focused, as if it was there that he had to show he was different from the others.”

Indeed, by the end of his first season in the Youth League, his six goals had helped propel Benfica to a final that they lost against Salzburg. That was in April 2017. By August 2018, he had his first senior goal for the club, an 86th-minute equaliser in a home derby against Sporting CP. “To see him scoring that header against Sporting, it was like winning a national title or any prize as coach.”

It is also what happens, muses Tralhão, when a club has “an integrated vision” and “communication channels between all the teams”. That provides a sense of security for a young player making his way, something which Félix himself acknowledges as he looks back on his time at Benfica. “We leave home to be there and we end up feeling at home there, because it is very welcoming.”

Now Madrid is his home, and finding his feet at Atlético his latest challenge. It should help that those talented feet remain firmly on the ground.

‘WE HAVE TO TREAT THEM ALL CASE BY CASE’

CHELSEA’S CLASS OF 2019

Take a seat in the stands at Stamford Bridge. On a good day, when everyone’s fit and in form, how many academy graduates are there in that starting XI who all made their debuts within a few years of each other? Let’s count them: Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Reece James and Billy Gilmour. Six. Now count the members of Manchester United’s famous Class of 92 who became regular first-teamers, supposedly in never-to-be-repeated fashion. Interesting.

Joe Edwards is uniquely placed to comment on Chelsea’s bountiful crop. A former schoolboy on the club’s books, he didn’t make the grade as a player so instead became a full-time member of the coaching staff before he’d turned 20. He worked his way through the ranks at youth level, in charge of age groups from Under-9s to U23s, before becoming Frank Lampard’s assistant coach at the start of this season.

“In terms of any comparisons with the Class of 92, the reason those guys are still spoken about is because they sustained it for so long and had incredible success,” says the 33-year-old. “So we won’t just kick back and enjoy it now – we’ll be driving these boys to make sure they can stay in the team and this isn’t a one-season wonder.”

You can understand Edwards’ caution – too many ‘next big things’ become damp squibs before they can legally buy fireworks – but he’s been helping to prepare these players for more than a decade. They’ve emerged as a combined force that’s seamlessly integrated with the first team because they’ve been trained to. “If we’re developing 15, 16, 17, 18-year-olds to be top football players, we obviously have to develop their skills and mentality,” says Edwards. “But, ultimately, they’ve got to be able to transfer that into a team framework, go out on the pitch and be one of 11. If you can produce your own players, have a core that has played together for a long time, it’s the ideal scenario. You’re putting people in the team that have that relationship. It’s ready-made.”

Mount and Hudson-Odoi, who joined the club aged six and seven respectively, can testify to that. Even though they came through Chelsea’s academy a couple of years apart (Mount is 21, Hudson-Odoi 19), they have an understanding on the pitch that’s partly down to having been schooled within the same youth system. “I know what Callum wants to do,” says Mount. “That definitely helps: when you’re on the pitch and you’ve got that kind of chemistry.”

“It’s nice knowing everyone has come through the academy to play alongside each other,” adds Hudson-Odoi. “It doesn’t matter what stage you’ve done it – for all of us to do it together, it’s an amazing feeling. We always give each other advice, always try and push each other through the tough times. We just enjoy each other’s company.”

Edwards has essentially grown up with this group of players, so he knows what makes them tick. “Callum’s the one that you can watch a lot of video with and he will sit there and ask questions. Mason was never one for that; he likes to get to work out on the pitch and always wants to do some extra finishing. If we’re doing set plays, he’ll want to have a discussion with you about his choice of delivery, his technique. Then after the game he’ll say, ‘Do you think that worked well?’

“Tammy is one where you send him a message and, all of a sudden, you’re in a two-way chat for half an hour. ‘Did you see that goal tonight? I think we can work on that on the training pitch.’

“They’re all different. Even this season: Tammy could be hot for goals and then it dries up a bit, so we need to help him. Or Fikayo’s in the team then he’s not in the team. We have to treat them all case by case. And I think that’s important: whatever works, whatever engages them most, you have to pick up on and run with it.”

Chelsea as a club have been willing to pick up and run with the idea that promoting youth players is the way forward. That hasn’t always been the case; just last season they had 41 players out on loan at once. “I’ve lived it,” says Edwards. “I’ve been in the academy now for the past 15 years and I’ve been close to the top end of it – where we’ve been pushing players – for the past seven or eight. In recent times there have certainly been players who would have been able to go in [to the first team] and make a contribution.”

So what’s changed? “A lot of it is down to the fact that Frank has had the trust and belief in bringing them in,” says the coach of his boss, manager Lampard. “Credit to the way that he’s given them their opportunity and, as of now, credit to the way the boys have taken it.”

And, let’s not forget, credit to Edwards for getting them there. Class of 2019? Watch this space.

‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Football

Top of the class

How do you know when a youngster is ready to make the step up? What sets the most talented apart at an early age and what’s the key to ensuring they fulfil their potential? We turned to the youth coaches of Dortmund ace Erling Braut Haaland, Chelsea’s new generation and Atlético Madrid prospect João Félix to find out

WORDS Simon Hart, Dan Poole, Carlos Machado | ILLUSTRATION Dan Evans

‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

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‘I NEVER EXPECTED IT TO MOVE AS FAST AS IT DID’

JOÃO FÉLIX

It is easy to forget the little things when a young footballer begins a new adventure in a new country. In the case of João Félix and his move last summer to Atlético Madrid, one is his admission that he has already taken “five different routes” when driving from his home, owing to the challenge of getting oriented in the Spanish capital.

For all his reliance on GPS, there is little danger of him losing his bearings where it matters most, according to one man who knows the 20-year-old well.

João Tralhão was the U19 coach who helped oversee Félix’s development as a teenager at Benfica, giving him a first taste of UEFA Youth League football aged just 16, and he believes the player’s attitude will help him cope with the inevitable bumps in the road. He offers an example from an occasion when the player stepped down from Benfica’s B team to play a match for the U19s, just to underline that here is a young man with sound sensibilities.

“João came from the B team, which has a kit man and all the good things that the first team have, to play in the finals of a junior tournament,” he begins. “We had groups of players to carry equipment onto the pitch and other groups to bring it in after training, but when he left the dressing room he saw that a team-mate had forgotten the water and some other things – and he turned up on the training pitch with the water and the bibs. No one had asked him, and the first thing he said was, ‘Don’t fine my team-mate – someone had put them in the wrong place and he didn’t see them.’”

For Tralhão, this willingness to muck in is a reflection of a “balanced, grounded” individual who had the benefit of a “very well-organised family structure around him”. And in the mind of a youth coach, that ticked a very big box. “He was a humble kid wanting to learn each day,” Tralhão continues. “He had an excellent capacity for judging what was said to him – he would sense and know what was very important. He feels and knows what’s good for him and what’s irrelevant.”

Shutting out the noise is more important than ever following his reported €126m transfer to Atlético. Félix admits that he “never expected it to move as fast as it did” and that the spotlight which comes with such a fee is not necessarily easy. “I wasn’t used to that. I was the centre of attention and I wasn’t used to it.”

Which is where that support network proves vital. “Everyone close to me tries to keep my feet on the ground,” says the Portugal forward. Yet he ascribes his mature outlook to one thing above all: another, earlier departure, when he left the family home in Viseu as a young boy to head 80km north to join Porto’s youth ranks. “I think that leaving home aged 11 helped me a lot. It made me more responsible from an early age.” He recalls long days starting with journeys to school at 7am and late-night returns after football. “It’s helped me a lot nowadays with regards to responsibility and the pressure that’s there.”

It was this mental side that meant Tralhão did not hesitate to fast-track Félix following his arrival at Benfica in 2015/16. Even though the newcomer “wasn’t physiologically ready to play in the junior team”, Tralhão and his fellow coaches saw a boy with vast potential. “The difference was not only his talent, but his game understanding and his competitive mentality.

“There are players,” he adds, “who tend to create mechanisms that will mitigate their performance. And others who, feeling the pressure – and everybody feels it –develop mechanisms that allow them to be stronger.” In the case of Félix, he fitted in the latter category. “His focus level is exceptional. I recall a game at Porto, his former club, where people knew his value, people knew who João Félix was, in a hostile environment due to the clubs’ huge rivalry. At these moments he tended to be stronger, to be more focused, as if it was there that he had to show he was different from the others.”

Indeed, by the end of his first season in the Youth League, his six goals had helped propel Benfica to a final that they lost against Salzburg. That was in April 2017. By August 2018, he had his first senior goal for the club, an 86th-minute equaliser in a home derby against Sporting CP. “To see him scoring that header against Sporting, it was like winning a national title or any prize as coach.”

It is also what happens, muses Tralhão, when a club has “an integrated vision” and “communication channels between all the teams”. That provides a sense of security for a young player making his way, something which Félix himself acknowledges as he looks back on his time at Benfica. “We leave home to be there and we end up feeling at home there, because it is very welcoming.”

Now Madrid is his home, and finding his feet at Atlético his latest challenge. It should help that those talented feet remain firmly on the ground.

‘WE HAVE TO TREAT THEM ALL CASE BY CASE’

CHELSEA’S CLASS OF 2019

Take a seat in the stands at Stamford Bridge. On a good day, when everyone’s fit and in form, how many academy graduates are there in that starting XI who all made their debuts within a few years of each other? Let’s count them: Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Reece James and Billy Gilmour. Six. Now count the members of Manchester United’s famous Class of 92 who became regular first-teamers, supposedly in never-to-be-repeated fashion. Interesting.

Joe Edwards is uniquely placed to comment on Chelsea’s bountiful crop. A former schoolboy on the club’s books, he didn’t make the grade as a player so instead became a full-time member of the coaching staff before he’d turned 20. He worked his way through the ranks at youth level, in charge of age groups from Under-9s to U23s, before becoming Frank Lampard’s assistant coach at the start of this season.

“In terms of any comparisons with the Class of 92, the reason those guys are still spoken about is because they sustained it for so long and had incredible success,” says the 33-year-old. “So we won’t just kick back and enjoy it now – we’ll be driving these boys to make sure they can stay in the team and this isn’t a one-season wonder.”

You can understand Edwards’ caution – too many ‘next big things’ become damp squibs before they can legally buy fireworks – but he’s been helping to prepare these players for more than a decade. They’ve emerged as a combined force that’s seamlessly integrated with the first team because they’ve been trained to. “If we’re developing 15, 16, 17, 18-year-olds to be top football players, we obviously have to develop their skills and mentality,” says Edwards. “But, ultimately, they’ve got to be able to transfer that into a team framework, go out on the pitch and be one of 11. If you can produce your own players, have a core that has played together for a long time, it’s the ideal scenario. You’re putting people in the team that have that relationship. It’s ready-made.”

Mount and Hudson-Odoi, who joined the club aged six and seven respectively, can testify to that. Even though they came through Chelsea’s academy a couple of years apart (Mount is 21, Hudson-Odoi 19), they have an understanding on the pitch that’s partly down to having been schooled within the same youth system. “I know what Callum wants to do,” says Mount. “That definitely helps: when you’re on the pitch and you’ve got that kind of chemistry.”

“It’s nice knowing everyone has come through the academy to play alongside each other,” adds Hudson-Odoi. “It doesn’t matter what stage you’ve done it – for all of us to do it together, it’s an amazing feeling. We always give each other advice, always try and push each other through the tough times. We just enjoy each other’s company.”

Edwards has essentially grown up with this group of players, so he knows what makes them tick. “Callum’s the one that you can watch a lot of video with and he will sit there and ask questions. Mason was never one for that; he likes to get to work out on the pitch and always wants to do some extra finishing. If we’re doing set plays, he’ll want to have a discussion with you about his choice of delivery, his technique. Then after the game he’ll say, ‘Do you think that worked well?’

“Tammy is one where you send him a message and, all of a sudden, you’re in a two-way chat for half an hour. ‘Did you see that goal tonight? I think we can work on that on the training pitch.’

“They’re all different. Even this season: Tammy could be hot for goals and then it dries up a bit, so we need to help him. Or Fikayo’s in the team then he’s not in the team. We have to treat them all case by case. And I think that’s important: whatever works, whatever engages them most, you have to pick up on and run with it.”

Chelsea as a club have been willing to pick up and run with the idea that promoting youth players is the way forward. That hasn’t always been the case; just last season they had 41 players out on loan at once. “I’ve lived it,” says Edwards. “I’ve been in the academy now for the past 15 years and I’ve been close to the top end of it – where we’ve been pushing players – for the past seven or eight. In recent times there have certainly been players who would have been able to go in [to the first team] and make a contribution.”

So what’s changed? “A lot of it is down to the fact that Frank has had the trust and belief in bringing them in,” says the coach of his boss, manager Lampard. “Credit to the way that he’s given them their opportunity and, as of now, credit to the way the boys have taken it.”

And, let’s not forget, credit to Edwards for getting them there. Class of 2019? Watch this space.

‘THE BEAST COMES TO LIFE’

ERLING BRAUT HAALAND

Gabriel Høyland could write a book about all he has seen at Bryne, the club from the small town of the same name in southwestern Norway. If he ever does, this one-club man who played for Bryne in the 1970s and 80s will surely reserve a chapter for Erling Braut Haaland, the teenage striker who has spent this season tormenting defenders in the Champions League.

Afterall, Høyland, as great-uncle of the Dortmund wunderkind, has witnessed his development at close hand. That’s right from his days as a young boy still new to Norway (his sentences a “charming” mix of English and Norwegian) following the end of his father Alf-Inge Haaland’s playing career in England. “Erling was about four or five and always carrying a ball, always asking his father to give him some practice,” says Høyland. “You could see there was something there. He just loved the ball.”

When charting the rise of the 19-year-old, it is only right to start at the beginning: namely, says Høyland, with the “good genes” that came not just from his father but also his mother, Gry Marita. “She was a heptathlete,” says Høyland of his niece. “She was Norwegian champion when she was around 18, 19.” He recalls too that the young Haaland “had an attitude” during his time in the Bryne youth ranks, a simmering competitive streak that could spill over. “He hated to lose. He also became a bit upset if the players around him didn’t perform. Erling was a little bit of a moaner, but look at him now – always smiling and enjoying his football.”

Erling Moe, the head coach at Molde, has a more lyrical description. “When he’s on the pitch, the beast in him comes to life,” says the man who was number two to Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Molde when Haaland made his top-flight debut, aged 16, in 2017. “Off the pitch he’s a really good boy. He’s polite with everyone around him, from the kit man to the ground staff to the chef. But when you start talking football, you see he knows his stuff – he tells us what he thinks is right and wrong.”

Haaland had played a year above his age group at Bryne and, after a growth spurt, was still filling out when he moved to Molde. “He was quite tall and skinny, so we spent half a year building some muscles on the kid,” says Moe. “He got more power as time went on. It was partly the physique he was born with but he worked a lot in the gym. We have our own chef who cooked breakfast and lunch, and also cooked food for him to take home. Lots of carbs. When he was with us, when other players had one plate of food he had four!”

A different kind of hunger has helped Haaland continually rise to new challenges. Moe is still struck by his scoring display against Zenit in a Europa League play-off in August 2018, Haaland hitting the winner in a 2-1 second-leg success. “You saw he was totally unafraid going up to a new level,” the Molde coach remembers. “He just did his thing. That goes back to how fearless he is.” Haaland then found the net in each of his first five Champions League outings for Salzburg, where he arrived last January, including a group stage debut hat-trick against Genk. Remarkably, his Dortmund spell began with another treble, achieved within 23 minutes of coming off the bench at Augsburg.

Moe sees signs of improvement everywhere. “He’s become even stronger. You can see it in his face when you compare photos. He’s still developing his physique and the timing of his runs is even better now, and of course the finishing – that too! The last season with us he scored 12 league goals and he had a few penalties in there, but now he’s developed the ability to get in positions more often.”

Gabriel Høyland dwells on a different aspect, the two-footedness that is the fruit of Haaland’s hard work “training on his own”. He elaborates: “When he went to Molde he just had one foot, his left. But obviously he’s done a lot of training with his weaker right foot and now he’s using it with confidence when he comes into an inside-right position to shoot.”

Haaland’s growing fan club includes Norway coach Lars Lagerbäck, who gave him his first senior cap last September. Four months previously, the former Sweden boss had taken note of the youngster’s nine-goal spree against Honduras at the FIFA U20 World Cup. “It was a lot of tap-ins but that’s also the skill he has – he’s always in the right spot,” says Lagerbäck. “I compare him with Henrik Larsson as one of his skills was always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box. He has a fantastic gift there.”

Gaute Larsen, the coach responsible for Haaland’s original league debut, at Bryne four years ago, can tell you much the same about that clever movement. And he is not surprised by the steps he has taken since. “It’s a big difference when you’re 15 and facing players twice your age,” he notes. “But in Erling’s whole career he’s been learning and building the toolkit with experience every year. Now, when he’s playing in the Bundesliga with Dortmund at 19, he is ready for it.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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