Interview

"My job is to score goals"

A young man in a hurry, Erling Haaland has been shredding records since his explosive Champions League debut a year and a half ago. More will surely tumble as the Dortmund striker continues his prolific career but, as he explains to Champions Journal, he remains a small-town lad with an insatiable urge to hear the ball hit the back of the net

WORDS Simon Hart and Caroline de Moraes | PORTRAITS Alexandre Simoes via Borussia Dortmund

It is a light-hearted moment, a little detour in a conversation dominated by football. It arises after a question about Erling Haaland’s Instagram account and the fact that his followers have doubled in the past year to six million. Speaking over Zoom from Borussia Dortmund’s training ground, he responds with a correction. “If you go and check right now you’ll see it’s not six million – you’ll see it’s something else,” he says with a smile. Football may be his absolute focus but he also knows the importance of social media in reaching out to his many fans. “I think you’ll have to go and check that again, to be honest,” he adds before doing the checking himself. “Yes, it has gone up to 6.1 [million] now.”

It should surprise no one that the young man on our screen, bedecked in a white hoody, is keeping count. This is a centre-forward for whom the world has opened up spectacularly in the past couple of years, so why not take it all in? To his generation, social media is second nature – and we will return to that Instagram account later. Though when it comes to numbers, it is goals that are the key currency for a young Norwegian living his Buzz Lightyear moment. His Champions League debut? A hat-trick. His Bundesliga debut? Another hat-trick. Infinity and beyond, one strike at a time.

The statistics show a rocket-fuelled rise. The first player to score a hat-trick on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney. The first teenager to score in five consecutive matches in the competition. Keeping count of those Instagram followers is easier, it seems, than tracking the milestones collecting at his feet. “To be honest, I had no idea about these records. I just try to do my job and my job is, of course, to score,” he reasons. He learns of these landmarks “normally when someone [tells me] after the game, or if I see it [on social media], or something like that”.

It is easy to simultaneously see Haaland as the young man still marvelling at all his possibilities and the matter-of-fact professional footballer who takes every feat in his stride. When asked the first thing he thinks of when somebody mentions the Champions League, he replies: “I think of the ball going into the net.” Some might find this supreme confidence staggering but put yourself in Haaland’s shoes: just 20 years old and every new door you knock at swings wide open – or, to be more accurate, flies off its hinges. With 16 goals from his first 12 appearances in the competition, it’s no wonder his first thought is of scoring, then scoring some more.

This time two years ago he was still finding his feet in Salzburg, after a midwinter move from Molde in his home country. Only on 12 May 2019 did he score his first goal in the Austrian Bundesliga, 13 minutes into his first league start. It makes his ensuing rush of Champions League goals all the more remarkable, beginning with his treble against Genk on 17 September that year.

“You know, my dream was always to play in the Champions League. When I went to Salzburg, I knew that if we won the league we would qualify directly for the Champions League. I knew that for a long time and when it finally happened I was like, ‘OK, this year is going to be my year with Salzburg.’ It started well and it’s just something special, you know, the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine, if you can say that.

“I played a game three days before and it went quite well,” he adds. That comes with a thick slice of understatement given it involved a hat-trick against Hartberg, one of five he accumulated for Salzburg between July and December 2019. “We were focusing on this Champions League debut for the whole club, with Salzburg, and I was also waiting for this moment in the Champions League. In my dreams I obviously [imagined] scoring on my debut, imagined how nice that would be, and then it went, like, 100 seconds and I scored! And the stadium just exploded. So yes, it was an amazing debut, and I had some amazing days there.

“Me and my uncle had sat before the game talking: ‘Imagine how crazy it would be to score the first-ever goal for Salzburg in the Champions League.’” Never mind one, he got three inside the first 45 minutes. “As I said, it’s a special competition so I don’t know what happens in my head, but it’s like it’s turning on a little bit more when it comes to the Champions League. And yes, the debut was quite good, so it was a nice night.”

Haaland salutes the fans after scoring a second goal on his Champions League debut for Salzburg

Quite good. He had his first goal after just one minute and 41 seconds in Salzburg’s head-turning 6-2 victory. After an early clearance by the Genk defence, he didn’t rush out but waited, level with their backline, before pouncing as the ball came back into the box, rifling a shot first time with his nominally weaker right foot. The second came from his left, after being put in the clear by Hee-Chan Hwang. The third, on the stroke of half-time, he poked in from close range. Unlike the joyous, puppyish celebrations of the first, Haaland waited calmly for confirmation it was not offside. “I was thinking ‘OK, I will not celebrate [in case] the celebration is for nothing,’ you know? So I was waiting a little bit and when I saw the goal was OK, and I had scored a hat-trick, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually living the dream!’”

Another Haaland hat-trick, for another club in another country four months later, is worth revisiting too. It came on 18 January 2020 at Augsburg – his Dortmund debut. He entered the action in the 56th minute, scored in the 59th and secured the match ball by the 79th. Afterwards, in the flash zone where players and television reporters meet, he stood chatting with Jan Åge Fjørtoft, a former Norway team-mate of Haaland’s footballer father Alf-Inge who’s now working in the media. One particular line from that interview stands out: “I’m just a guy from Bryne, and I’m still just that, and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryne lies on Norway’s west coast, just south of Stavanger, and has been the hub of the country’s oil industry since the 1970s. But while Stavanger grew into an international city, Bryne has remained resolutely rural. Indeed, as Fjørtoft tells Champions Journal, Stavanger residents are known to joke that their noses tell them when they have reached Bryne, thanks to the smell of farmland. Followers of Haaland’s Instagram account got a taste of the place he calls home through two images he posted last summer: in one he sits shirtless at the wheel of a tractor; in the other he stands in a river with a chainsaw in his hands and fallen timber at his feet.

Born in Leeds during his father’s time playing at Elland Road, he was three when the family swapped northern England for a patch of Norway filled with open farmland and one of the country’s finest beaches. What does the place mean to him? “I still have a lot of good friends who I’ve been friends with my whole life and, you know, people from there, we are like this: humble and hard-working people. Of course, it has helped me and this will never be a problem for me.” By “this” he means keeping his feet on the ground.

“My dream was always to play in the Champions League. it’s just something special, you know? the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine”
By

This is a young man who only left his teens last July and grew up in a place far from Europe’s big football hubs. Fjørtoft, who has interviewed him many times when reporting on the Champions League for Scandinavian broadcaster Viaplay, elaborates. “He is proud of his background. In a world of a lot of young kids with big cars, and girlfriends with Instagram accounts and influencer status all around the world, I think Erling is aware of that being his identity, and you see it in his daily work. I have seldom found or seen or known a player who is more dedicated and has a better attitude, and that’s impressed me.”

It is worth revisiting Haaland’s interview with Fjørtoft that day in Augsburg for the big grins that betray his youthfulness as he holds the match ball. “Although he’s been very close to professional football through his dad, he has this childish approach that when he’s standing there with the football and can take it home thanks to his hat-trick, he is proud – but proud in a good way,” explains Fjørtoft. “The 20-year-old, or then 19-year-old, Erling Haaland knew that the ten-year-old Erling Haaland was there too – he was in that corridor with him in Augsburg.”

Haaland himself reflects that the special feelings stirred on a Champions League night owe something to boyhood memories of watching the competition, along with other ingredients such as the ball (“it’s a bit special”) and the anthem. “I’ve been a fan of this competition since I was a small kid, watching the finals with my friends and family, and so on. It’s just something special. It’s hard to explain, but it really is.

“It’s been like that my whole life,” he goes on. “You know, midweek, it’s Champions League Tuesday and Wednesday. And it’s always been like that – building up after the game at the weekend, building up to the Champions League. And, yes, I just like the setting, you know? The song, the day before, the training with the Champions League ball…”

He may like that ball but he doesn’t half thwack it. His shooting power was clearly audible for his second goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of last season’s round of 16 tie, as a microphone picked up the noise of the ball crashing into the net. “Yes, I’ve heard the sound a couple of times and I want to hear this sound again,” he grins.

His double strike in that 2-1 home win over Paris came during a sequence that yielded goals in seven of his first eight Dortmund appearances. “That was the last Champions League game with supporters, with a full house, and it was my Champions League debut for Dortmund, so it was a bit special,” he remembers. “It was my first Champions League game for them and I remember the whole stadium sort of exploded.”

“my Champions League debut for Dortmund was a full house. the whole stadium sort of exploded”


The Champions League goals have kept coming, with this season’s group stage bringing him six in four games. The same goes for the Bundesliga where – at the time of writing – he had 28 strikes from his first 31 outings for Dortmund. Does he step onto the field each time almost expecting to score? “I don’t go into games like this. I go into games trying to do all the other things right, and if I do all those things very well, if I position myself well, if I do this well and do that well, I know the goals will come. So if I’m fully focused and concentrating on doing the right things, the goals will come.”

That they are. According to Tore Andre Flo – like Fjortoft, a former Norway colleague of Haaland’s father – his feats are being cheered on enthusiastically back at home. “I think everyone in Norway is very proud,” he says. “They’re following him closely. In the beginning we were thinking, ‘When is this going to stop? Let’s just enjoy it for as long as it lasts.’ But he’s just kept on going, match after match.” Flo, now a coach at his old club Chelsea, adds that Haaland has “gone beyond what everybody thought he could do”. The view of a coach who worked with him at Molde, Erling Moe, is that his former charge has improved in every respect, from the timing of his runs to his increased power. “He’s become even stronger, you can see it in his face when you compare pictures when he was at Molde and pictures now,” Moe told Champions Journal last year; issue 3, if you want to look it up.

In that same issue it was Haaland’s intelligent movement that Lars Lagerbäck, then coach of Norway’s national team, chose to highlight. He likened him to Henrik Larsson, the former Sweden, Celtic and Barcelona forward, for “always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box”.

Two Haaland goals earned Dortmund victory against Paris in the round of 16 first leg last season

It is also worth pointing out Haaland’s team-first attitude. There was no better example of this than in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Freiburg on 3 October last year. With two goals to his name already, he broke through on goal in the 90th minute. But rather than seek another hat-trick, he squared the ball to team-mate Felix Passlack, who converted for his first Bundesliga goal.

Still, it’s his scoring milestones that make the headlines. At the end of November he achieved another with two goals against Club Brugge, which took him to 16 in the Champions League. He was 20 years and 126 days old at the time, making him the youngest player to reach the 15-goal mark in the competition. He broke the record of Kylian Mbappé, who hit his 15th at 20 years and 306 days.

Does he remember whose record he bettered? “I remember I saw it but I don’t remember now, to be honest,” says Haaland. When it’s also put to him that Lionel Messi had been more than a year older on the day he reached 15 goals, the response is similarly low key. “Yes, of course it’s nice, [but he’s scored] a couple of goals after that! It’s about keeping going.” Back in Bryne, they’d expect nothing less.

Music
Going with the flow

During Erling Haaland’s Salzburg days, a video appeared online: the striker at the wheel of his car listening to the Champions League anthem. Yet a rummage around the internet reveals a different side to his musical tastes from even further back, in the form of a rap video that he made with friends at home in Norway in 2016. Flow Kingz is the name of the group and their performance of a song entitled Kygo Jo features the sight of Haaland flipping imaginary burgers while miming along to his section of the rap.

“As you may know, we have a good song on YouTube and yes, it’s a nice group of people,” he says of the video, which boasts more than 6 million views. There is a long-established tradition of footballers making records, so can we expect to hear new output from Flow Kingz? Haaland, as befits a young man with the world at his feet, is not ruling anything out. “We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m fully focused on football so that’s not in my head. But you never know what might happen in the future.”

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Interview

"My job is to score goals"

A young man in a hurry, Erling Haaland has been shredding records since his explosive Champions League debut a year and a half ago. More will surely tumble as the Dortmund striker continues his prolific career but, as he explains to Champions Journal, he remains a small-town lad with an insatiable urge to hear the ball hit the back of the net

WORDS Simon Hart and Caroline de Moraes | PORTRAITS Alexandre Simoes via Borussia Dortmund

It is a light-hearted moment, a little detour in a conversation dominated by football. It arises after a question about Erling Haaland’s Instagram account and the fact that his followers have doubled in the past year to six million. Speaking over Zoom from Borussia Dortmund’s training ground, he responds with a correction. “If you go and check right now you’ll see it’s not six million – you’ll see it’s something else,” he says with a smile. Football may be his absolute focus but he also knows the importance of social media in reaching out to his many fans. “I think you’ll have to go and check that again, to be honest,” he adds before doing the checking himself. “Yes, it has gone up to 6.1 [million] now.”

It should surprise no one that the young man on our screen, bedecked in a white hoody, is keeping count. This is a centre-forward for whom the world has opened up spectacularly in the past couple of years, so why not take it all in? To his generation, social media is second nature – and we will return to that Instagram account later. Though when it comes to numbers, it is goals that are the key currency for a young Norwegian living his Buzz Lightyear moment. His Champions League debut? A hat-trick. His Bundesliga debut? Another hat-trick. Infinity and beyond, one strike at a time.

The statistics show a rocket-fuelled rise. The first player to score a hat-trick on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney. The first teenager to score in five consecutive matches in the competition. Keeping count of those Instagram followers is easier, it seems, than tracking the milestones collecting at his feet. “To be honest, I had no idea about these records. I just try to do my job and my job is, of course, to score,” he reasons. He learns of these landmarks “normally when someone [tells me] after the game, or if I see it [on social media], or something like that”.

It is easy to simultaneously see Haaland as the young man still marvelling at all his possibilities and the matter-of-fact professional footballer who takes every feat in his stride. When asked the first thing he thinks of when somebody mentions the Champions League, he replies: “I think of the ball going into the net.” Some might find this supreme confidence staggering but put yourself in Haaland’s shoes: just 20 years old and every new door you knock at swings wide open – or, to be more accurate, flies off its hinges. With 16 goals from his first 12 appearances in the competition, it’s no wonder his first thought is of scoring, then scoring some more.

This time two years ago he was still finding his feet in Salzburg, after a midwinter move from Molde in his home country. Only on 12 May 2019 did he score his first goal in the Austrian Bundesliga, 13 minutes into his first league start. It makes his ensuing rush of Champions League goals all the more remarkable, beginning with his treble against Genk on 17 September that year.

“You know, my dream was always to play in the Champions League. When I went to Salzburg, I knew that if we won the league we would qualify directly for the Champions League. I knew that for a long time and when it finally happened I was like, ‘OK, this year is going to be my year with Salzburg.’ It started well and it’s just something special, you know, the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine, if you can say that.

“I played a game three days before and it went quite well,” he adds. That comes with a thick slice of understatement given it involved a hat-trick against Hartberg, one of five he accumulated for Salzburg between July and December 2019. “We were focusing on this Champions League debut for the whole club, with Salzburg, and I was also waiting for this moment in the Champions League. In my dreams I obviously [imagined] scoring on my debut, imagined how nice that would be, and then it went, like, 100 seconds and I scored! And the stadium just exploded. So yes, it was an amazing debut, and I had some amazing days there.

“Me and my uncle had sat before the game talking: ‘Imagine how crazy it would be to score the first-ever goal for Salzburg in the Champions League.’” Never mind one, he got three inside the first 45 minutes. “As I said, it’s a special competition so I don’t know what happens in my head, but it’s like it’s turning on a little bit more when it comes to the Champions League. And yes, the debut was quite good, so it was a nice night.”

Haaland salutes the fans after scoring a second goal on his Champions League debut for Salzburg

Quite good. He had his first goal after just one minute and 41 seconds in Salzburg’s head-turning 6-2 victory. After an early clearance by the Genk defence, he didn’t rush out but waited, level with their backline, before pouncing as the ball came back into the box, rifling a shot first time with his nominally weaker right foot. The second came from his left, after being put in the clear by Hee-Chan Hwang. The third, on the stroke of half-time, he poked in from close range. Unlike the joyous, puppyish celebrations of the first, Haaland waited calmly for confirmation it was not offside. “I was thinking ‘OK, I will not celebrate [in case] the celebration is for nothing,’ you know? So I was waiting a little bit and when I saw the goal was OK, and I had scored a hat-trick, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually living the dream!’”

Another Haaland hat-trick, for another club in another country four months later, is worth revisiting too. It came on 18 January 2020 at Augsburg – his Dortmund debut. He entered the action in the 56th minute, scored in the 59th and secured the match ball by the 79th. Afterwards, in the flash zone where players and television reporters meet, he stood chatting with Jan Åge Fjørtoft, a former Norway team-mate of Haaland’s footballer father Alf-Inge who’s now working in the media. One particular line from that interview stands out: “I’m just a guy from Bryne, and I’m still just that, and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryne lies on Norway’s west coast, just south of Stavanger, and has been the hub of the country’s oil industry since the 1970s. But while Stavanger grew into an international city, Bryne has remained resolutely rural. Indeed, as Fjørtoft tells Champions Journal, Stavanger residents are known to joke that their noses tell them when they have reached Bryne, thanks to the smell of farmland. Followers of Haaland’s Instagram account got a taste of the place he calls home through two images he posted last summer: in one he sits shirtless at the wheel of a tractor; in the other he stands in a river with a chainsaw in his hands and fallen timber at his feet.

Born in Leeds during his father’s time playing at Elland Road, he was three when the family swapped northern England for a patch of Norway filled with open farmland and one of the country’s finest beaches. What does the place mean to him? “I still have a lot of good friends who I’ve been friends with my whole life and, you know, people from there, we are like this: humble and hard-working people. Of course, it has helped me and this will never be a problem for me.” By “this” he means keeping his feet on the ground.

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“My dream was always to play in the Champions League. it’s just something special, you know? the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine”
By

This is a young man who only left his teens last July and grew up in a place far from Europe’s big football hubs. Fjørtoft, who has interviewed him many times when reporting on the Champions League for Scandinavian broadcaster Viaplay, elaborates. “He is proud of his background. In a world of a lot of young kids with big cars, and girlfriends with Instagram accounts and influencer status all around the world, I think Erling is aware of that being his identity, and you see it in his daily work. I have seldom found or seen or known a player who is more dedicated and has a better attitude, and that’s impressed me.”

It is worth revisiting Haaland’s interview with Fjørtoft that day in Augsburg for the big grins that betray his youthfulness as he holds the match ball. “Although he’s been very close to professional football through his dad, he has this childish approach that when he’s standing there with the football and can take it home thanks to his hat-trick, he is proud – but proud in a good way,” explains Fjørtoft. “The 20-year-old, or then 19-year-old, Erling Haaland knew that the ten-year-old Erling Haaland was there too – he was in that corridor with him in Augsburg.”

Haaland himself reflects that the special feelings stirred on a Champions League night owe something to boyhood memories of watching the competition, along with other ingredients such as the ball (“it’s a bit special”) and the anthem. “I’ve been a fan of this competition since I was a small kid, watching the finals with my friends and family, and so on. It’s just something special. It’s hard to explain, but it really is.

“It’s been like that my whole life,” he goes on. “You know, midweek, it’s Champions League Tuesday and Wednesday. And it’s always been like that – building up after the game at the weekend, building up to the Champions League. And, yes, I just like the setting, you know? The song, the day before, the training with the Champions League ball…”

He may like that ball but he doesn’t half thwack it. His shooting power was clearly audible for his second goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of last season’s round of 16 tie, as a microphone picked up the noise of the ball crashing into the net. “Yes, I’ve heard the sound a couple of times and I want to hear this sound again,” he grins.

His double strike in that 2-1 home win over Paris came during a sequence that yielded goals in seven of his first eight Dortmund appearances. “That was the last Champions League game with supporters, with a full house, and it was my Champions League debut for Dortmund, so it was a bit special,” he remembers. “It was my first Champions League game for them and I remember the whole stadium sort of exploded.”

“my Champions League debut for Dortmund was a full house. the whole stadium sort of exploded”


The Champions League goals have kept coming, with this season’s group stage bringing him six in four games. The same goes for the Bundesliga where – at the time of writing – he had 28 strikes from his first 31 outings for Dortmund. Does he step onto the field each time almost expecting to score? “I don’t go into games like this. I go into games trying to do all the other things right, and if I do all those things very well, if I position myself well, if I do this well and do that well, I know the goals will come. So if I’m fully focused and concentrating on doing the right things, the goals will come.”

That they are. According to Tore Andre Flo – like Fjortoft, a former Norway colleague of Haaland’s father – his feats are being cheered on enthusiastically back at home. “I think everyone in Norway is very proud,” he says. “They’re following him closely. In the beginning we were thinking, ‘When is this going to stop? Let’s just enjoy it for as long as it lasts.’ But he’s just kept on going, match after match.” Flo, now a coach at his old club Chelsea, adds that Haaland has “gone beyond what everybody thought he could do”. The view of a coach who worked with him at Molde, Erling Moe, is that his former charge has improved in every respect, from the timing of his runs to his increased power. “He’s become even stronger, you can see it in his face when you compare pictures when he was at Molde and pictures now,” Moe told Champions Journal last year; issue 3, if you want to look it up.

In that same issue it was Haaland’s intelligent movement that Lars Lagerbäck, then coach of Norway’s national team, chose to highlight. He likened him to Henrik Larsson, the former Sweden, Celtic and Barcelona forward, for “always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box”.

Two Haaland goals earned Dortmund victory against Paris in the round of 16 first leg last season

It is also worth pointing out Haaland’s team-first attitude. There was no better example of this than in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Freiburg on 3 October last year. With two goals to his name already, he broke through on goal in the 90th minute. But rather than seek another hat-trick, he squared the ball to team-mate Felix Passlack, who converted for his first Bundesliga goal.

Still, it’s his scoring milestones that make the headlines. At the end of November he achieved another with two goals against Club Brugge, which took him to 16 in the Champions League. He was 20 years and 126 days old at the time, making him the youngest player to reach the 15-goal mark in the competition. He broke the record of Kylian Mbappé, who hit his 15th at 20 years and 306 days.

Does he remember whose record he bettered? “I remember I saw it but I don’t remember now, to be honest,” says Haaland. When it’s also put to him that Lionel Messi had been more than a year older on the day he reached 15 goals, the response is similarly low key. “Yes, of course it’s nice, [but he’s scored] a couple of goals after that! It’s about keeping going.” Back in Bryne, they’d expect nothing less.

Music
Going with the flow

During Erling Haaland’s Salzburg days, a video appeared online: the striker at the wheel of his car listening to the Champions League anthem. Yet a rummage around the internet reveals a different side to his musical tastes from even further back, in the form of a rap video that he made with friends at home in Norway in 2016. Flow Kingz is the name of the group and their performance of a song entitled Kygo Jo features the sight of Haaland flipping imaginary burgers while miming along to his section of the rap.

“As you may know, we have a good song on YouTube and yes, it’s a nice group of people,” he says of the video, which boasts more than 6 million views. There is a long-established tradition of footballers making records, so can we expect to hear new output from Flow Kingz? Haaland, as befits a young man with the world at his feet, is not ruling anything out. “We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m fully focused on football so that’s not in my head. But you never know what might happen in the future.”

Interview

"My job is to score goals"

A young man in a hurry, Erling Haaland has been shredding records since his explosive Champions League debut a year and a half ago. More will surely tumble as the Dortmund striker continues his prolific career but, as he explains to Champions Journal, he remains a small-town lad with an insatiable urge to hear the ball hit the back of the net

WORDS Simon Hart and Caroline de Moraes | PORTRAITS Alexandre Simoes via Borussia Dortmund

It is a light-hearted moment, a little detour in a conversation dominated by football. It arises after a question about Erling Haaland’s Instagram account and the fact that his followers have doubled in the past year to six million. Speaking over Zoom from Borussia Dortmund’s training ground, he responds with a correction. “If you go and check right now you’ll see it’s not six million – you’ll see it’s something else,” he says with a smile. Football may be his absolute focus but he also knows the importance of social media in reaching out to his many fans. “I think you’ll have to go and check that again, to be honest,” he adds before doing the checking himself. “Yes, it has gone up to 6.1 [million] now.”

It should surprise no one that the young man on our screen, bedecked in a white hoody, is keeping count. This is a centre-forward for whom the world has opened up spectacularly in the past couple of years, so why not take it all in? To his generation, social media is second nature – and we will return to that Instagram account later. Though when it comes to numbers, it is goals that are the key currency for a young Norwegian living his Buzz Lightyear moment. His Champions League debut? A hat-trick. His Bundesliga debut? Another hat-trick. Infinity and beyond, one strike at a time.

The statistics show a rocket-fuelled rise. The first player to score a hat-trick on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney. The first teenager to score in five consecutive matches in the competition. Keeping count of those Instagram followers is easier, it seems, than tracking the milestones collecting at his feet. “To be honest, I had no idea about these records. I just try to do my job and my job is, of course, to score,” he reasons. He learns of these landmarks “normally when someone [tells me] after the game, or if I see it [on social media], or something like that”.

It is easy to simultaneously see Haaland as the young man still marvelling at all his possibilities and the matter-of-fact professional footballer who takes every feat in his stride. When asked the first thing he thinks of when somebody mentions the Champions League, he replies: “I think of the ball going into the net.” Some might find this supreme confidence staggering but put yourself in Haaland’s shoes: just 20 years old and every new door you knock at swings wide open – or, to be more accurate, flies off its hinges. With 16 goals from his first 12 appearances in the competition, it’s no wonder his first thought is of scoring, then scoring some more.

This time two years ago he was still finding his feet in Salzburg, after a midwinter move from Molde in his home country. Only on 12 May 2019 did he score his first goal in the Austrian Bundesliga, 13 minutes into his first league start. It makes his ensuing rush of Champions League goals all the more remarkable, beginning with his treble against Genk on 17 September that year.

“You know, my dream was always to play in the Champions League. When I went to Salzburg, I knew that if we won the league we would qualify directly for the Champions League. I knew that for a long time and when it finally happened I was like, ‘OK, this year is going to be my year with Salzburg.’ It started well and it’s just something special, you know, the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine, if you can say that.

“I played a game three days before and it went quite well,” he adds. That comes with a thick slice of understatement given it involved a hat-trick against Hartberg, one of five he accumulated for Salzburg between July and December 2019. “We were focusing on this Champions League debut for the whole club, with Salzburg, and I was also waiting for this moment in the Champions League. In my dreams I obviously [imagined] scoring on my debut, imagined how nice that would be, and then it went, like, 100 seconds and I scored! And the stadium just exploded. So yes, it was an amazing debut, and I had some amazing days there.

“Me and my uncle had sat before the game talking: ‘Imagine how crazy it would be to score the first-ever goal for Salzburg in the Champions League.’” Never mind one, he got three inside the first 45 minutes. “As I said, it’s a special competition so I don’t know what happens in my head, but it’s like it’s turning on a little bit more when it comes to the Champions League. And yes, the debut was quite good, so it was a nice night.”

Haaland salutes the fans after scoring a second goal on his Champions League debut for Salzburg

Quite good. He had his first goal after just one minute and 41 seconds in Salzburg’s head-turning 6-2 victory. After an early clearance by the Genk defence, he didn’t rush out but waited, level with their backline, before pouncing as the ball came back into the box, rifling a shot first time with his nominally weaker right foot. The second came from his left, after being put in the clear by Hee-Chan Hwang. The third, on the stroke of half-time, he poked in from close range. Unlike the joyous, puppyish celebrations of the first, Haaland waited calmly for confirmation it was not offside. “I was thinking ‘OK, I will not celebrate [in case] the celebration is for nothing,’ you know? So I was waiting a little bit and when I saw the goal was OK, and I had scored a hat-trick, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually living the dream!’”

Another Haaland hat-trick, for another club in another country four months later, is worth revisiting too. It came on 18 January 2020 at Augsburg – his Dortmund debut. He entered the action in the 56th minute, scored in the 59th and secured the match ball by the 79th. Afterwards, in the flash zone where players and television reporters meet, he stood chatting with Jan Åge Fjørtoft, a former Norway team-mate of Haaland’s footballer father Alf-Inge who’s now working in the media. One particular line from that interview stands out: “I’m just a guy from Bryne, and I’m still just that, and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryne lies on Norway’s west coast, just south of Stavanger, and has been the hub of the country’s oil industry since the 1970s. But while Stavanger grew into an international city, Bryne has remained resolutely rural. Indeed, as Fjørtoft tells Champions Journal, Stavanger residents are known to joke that their noses tell them when they have reached Bryne, thanks to the smell of farmland. Followers of Haaland’s Instagram account got a taste of the place he calls home through two images he posted last summer: in one he sits shirtless at the wheel of a tractor; in the other he stands in a river with a chainsaw in his hands and fallen timber at his feet.

Born in Leeds during his father’s time playing at Elland Road, he was three when the family swapped northern England for a patch of Norway filled with open farmland and one of the country’s finest beaches. What does the place mean to him? “I still have a lot of good friends who I’ve been friends with my whole life and, you know, people from there, we are like this: humble and hard-working people. Of course, it has helped me and this will never be a problem for me.” By “this” he means keeping his feet on the ground.

“My dream was always to play in the Champions League. it’s just something special, you know? the whole thing. That’s where the stars shine”
By

This is a young man who only left his teens last July and grew up in a place far from Europe’s big football hubs. Fjørtoft, who has interviewed him many times when reporting on the Champions League for Scandinavian broadcaster Viaplay, elaborates. “He is proud of his background. In a world of a lot of young kids with big cars, and girlfriends with Instagram accounts and influencer status all around the world, I think Erling is aware of that being his identity, and you see it in his daily work. I have seldom found or seen or known a player who is more dedicated and has a better attitude, and that’s impressed me.”

It is worth revisiting Haaland’s interview with Fjørtoft that day in Augsburg for the big grins that betray his youthfulness as he holds the match ball. “Although he’s been very close to professional football through his dad, he has this childish approach that when he’s standing there with the football and can take it home thanks to his hat-trick, he is proud – but proud in a good way,” explains Fjørtoft. “The 20-year-old, or then 19-year-old, Erling Haaland knew that the ten-year-old Erling Haaland was there too – he was in that corridor with him in Augsburg.”

Haaland himself reflects that the special feelings stirred on a Champions League night owe something to boyhood memories of watching the competition, along with other ingredients such as the ball (“it’s a bit special”) and the anthem. “I’ve been a fan of this competition since I was a small kid, watching the finals with my friends and family, and so on. It’s just something special. It’s hard to explain, but it really is.

“It’s been like that my whole life,” he goes on. “You know, midweek, it’s Champions League Tuesday and Wednesday. And it’s always been like that – building up after the game at the weekend, building up to the Champions League. And, yes, I just like the setting, you know? The song, the day before, the training with the Champions League ball…”

He may like that ball but he doesn’t half thwack it. His shooting power was clearly audible for his second goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of last season’s round of 16 tie, as a microphone picked up the noise of the ball crashing into the net. “Yes, I’ve heard the sound a couple of times and I want to hear this sound again,” he grins.

His double strike in that 2-1 home win over Paris came during a sequence that yielded goals in seven of his first eight Dortmund appearances. “That was the last Champions League game with supporters, with a full house, and it was my Champions League debut for Dortmund, so it was a bit special,” he remembers. “It was my first Champions League game for them and I remember the whole stadium sort of exploded.”

“my Champions League debut for Dortmund was a full house. the whole stadium sort of exploded”


The Champions League goals have kept coming, with this season’s group stage bringing him six in four games. The same goes for the Bundesliga where – at the time of writing – he had 28 strikes from his first 31 outings for Dortmund. Does he step onto the field each time almost expecting to score? “I don’t go into games like this. I go into games trying to do all the other things right, and if I do all those things very well, if I position myself well, if I do this well and do that well, I know the goals will come. So if I’m fully focused and concentrating on doing the right things, the goals will come.”

That they are. According to Tore Andre Flo – like Fjortoft, a former Norway colleague of Haaland’s father – his feats are being cheered on enthusiastically back at home. “I think everyone in Norway is very proud,” he says. “They’re following him closely. In the beginning we were thinking, ‘When is this going to stop? Let’s just enjoy it for as long as it lasts.’ But he’s just kept on going, match after match.” Flo, now a coach at his old club Chelsea, adds that Haaland has “gone beyond what everybody thought he could do”. The view of a coach who worked with him at Molde, Erling Moe, is that his former charge has improved in every respect, from the timing of his runs to his increased power. “He’s become even stronger, you can see it in his face when you compare pictures when he was at Molde and pictures now,” Moe told Champions Journal last year; issue 3, if you want to look it up.

In that same issue it was Haaland’s intelligent movement that Lars Lagerbäck, then coach of Norway’s national team, chose to highlight. He likened him to Henrik Larsson, the former Sweden, Celtic and Barcelona forward, for “always being on the move, always reading the game, especially in the last third and penalty box”.

Two Haaland goals earned Dortmund victory against Paris in the round of 16 first leg last season

It is also worth pointing out Haaland’s team-first attitude. There was no better example of this than in Dortmund’s 4-0 win over Freiburg on 3 October last year. With two goals to his name already, he broke through on goal in the 90th minute. But rather than seek another hat-trick, he squared the ball to team-mate Felix Passlack, who converted for his first Bundesliga goal.

Still, it’s his scoring milestones that make the headlines. At the end of November he achieved another with two goals against Club Brugge, which took him to 16 in the Champions League. He was 20 years and 126 days old at the time, making him the youngest player to reach the 15-goal mark in the competition. He broke the record of Kylian Mbappé, who hit his 15th at 20 years and 306 days.

Does he remember whose record he bettered? “I remember I saw it but I don’t remember now, to be honest,” says Haaland. When it’s also put to him that Lionel Messi had been more than a year older on the day he reached 15 goals, the response is similarly low key. “Yes, of course it’s nice, [but he’s scored] a couple of goals after that! It’s about keeping going.” Back in Bryne, they’d expect nothing less.

Music
Going with the flow

During Erling Haaland’s Salzburg days, a video appeared online: the striker at the wheel of his car listening to the Champions League anthem. Yet a rummage around the internet reveals a different side to his musical tastes from even further back, in the form of a rap video that he made with friends at home in Norway in 2016. Flow Kingz is the name of the group and their performance of a song entitled Kygo Jo features the sight of Haaland flipping imaginary burgers while miming along to his section of the rap.

“As you may know, we have a good song on YouTube and yes, it’s a nice group of people,” he says of the video, which boasts more than 6 million views. There is a long-established tradition of footballers making records, so can we expect to hear new output from Flow Kingz? Haaland, as befits a young man with the world at his feet, is not ruling anything out. “We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m fully focused on football so that’s not in my head. But you never know what might happen in the future.”

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