After Erling Haaland’s incredible surge, what happens next?

The first coach of Erling Haaland recalls the moment his former prodigy broke into the larger footballing consciousness.

The forward had been scoring goals for Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, but he made his mark on the European scene in September 2019 when he scored a fantastic first-half hat-trick on his Champions League debut against Genk.

“Whoosh!” exclaims Alf Ingve Berntsen, the man who, at the age of 15, handed Haaland his first senior start for Bryne in Norway’s second tier.

“That was the catalyst for truly becoming a household name. Even I, his old coach from back in the day, recognized something was off.”

Haaland went on to score in each of his first five Champions League group games, becoming the first teenager to do so, and he moved for Borussia Dortmund in the January transfer window after scoring 28 goals in 22 league games.

Berntsen tells BBC Sport, “I’ve watched Erling score the same goals for many years.” “However, it is uncommon to continue scoring as you become older. He is constantly progressing to the next level and the next level.”

Now he’s on the move again, with the 21-year-old signing for Manchester City on Monday after a long search.

It’s a watershed moment for a guy regarded as one of the most exciting offensive talents in the world of football.

Bryne is a tiny town in the south west of Norway with a population of roughly 12,000 people. Erling’s father, Alf-Inge Haaland, began his career there, and the family returned after the player left Manchester City in 2003.

Berntsen began coaching Erling, who was born in Leeds, when he was three years old and was promoted up a year group at the age of eight because of his clear promise.

“In certain ways, we could tell he was unusual because in football, you improve your talents in four basic areas,” Berntsen explains. “Tactical, your intelligence and moves; technical, your ball skills; physically, your speed, endurance, and so on; and mentality.”

“When elite clubs scout, they want to see if you’re really excellent in two of these four areas or just okay in three or four, but Erling was really good in technical, tactical, and attitude from a young age.”

“But he has a five-year-old brother [Astor] who is large, strong, and fast, so we knew the missing piece in Erling’s play would become his greatest strength.” We knew he’d have four out of four in a couple of years.”

Haaland, whose mother, Gry Marita Braut, was a brilliant athlete, was part of a talented group at Bryne, with four of Berntsen’s 40 players going on to play for the national team at various times.

“He had a passion for football, like many youngsters have,” Berntsen says. “He had grit, as you say in the UK.” He was unique, and when he was on the field, he was completely concentrated on the game.

“From a young age, he learned how to behave as a player, how to behave in the locker room, and how crucial it is to have fun while also practicing a lot.”

“He had amazing genetics, and his family was also quite supportive of his football thinking.”

“We knew he was unique from the time he was 12, because he is never afraid tactically, technically, or mentally, and he has incredible tenacity, and we knew this would erupt in a few years when he was strong and fast. However, it’s possible that he’s grown tired of football.”

Although training was always difficult, the teenage forward distinguished out, scoring goals on a regional and national level. Indeed, that first season with the senior team at Bryne was the only time in his career when he struggled to find the net.

Before Berntsen was elected caretaker manager in January, Haaland had been scoring for fun in the reserves and had been given 10 minutes of first-team action.

Berntsen continues, “He was just 15, and he was pretty tall but quite slender.” “He learned essential lessons: if you want to score against the grownups, you have to train and enhance your physics.”

“He had to compete against large, strong men.” He grew more robustly, which is really significant. To become good, you must struggle a little; if everything goes smoothly, it is too simple.”

Team Haaland – and a series of ‘very clever’ moves

Haaland’s move to Molde was the first of a series of “extremely brilliant” transactions that took him to Red Bull Salzburg and then to Borussia Dortmund, according to Berntsen.

Former Norway striker Jan Age Fjortoft, who spent much of his career in England, was certain that Haaland and his team would make another good decision with their current move.

“In general, having a good team is beneficial to every athlete, every human being, especially when undertaking all of the things Erling is presently doing, step by step, bigger and bigger. It’s helpful to have a father or someone who has been there before “Fjortoft adds.

“Because I’m familiar with Team Haaland, I’ve seen how they’ve chosen his clubs in the past, and they have a technique.” They examine every facet of each club, which is why he turned down Juventus while he was at Salzburg and Manchester United when he moved to Dortmund, because it did not fit his career.

“Now that they’re making decisions as a team, they talk about these topics.”

Former coach Berntsen is optimistic that Haaland will adjust to his new surroundings, having seen the forward go to Molde on his own as a 16-year-old and then to Salzburg two years later, before dealing with the Covid pandemic in Germany.

The 6ft 4in striker has been in high demand due to his incredible goalscoring prowess – he has 85 goals in 88 outings for Dortmund in all competitions. He also has 20 goals in 21 games for Norway, and is only 14 goals away from being the country’s all-time leading scorer.

“He was dubbed a machine by the Germans. “I don’t believe a human being should be called a machine, but he is as close as you can go,” says Fjortoft, who now works as a journalist.

“Haaland is a tall, blond Norwegian who looks like a Viking who arrived in the UK thousands of years ago, but he is calm, can score goals, is powerful, and has excellent technical talents.” He

“There was a period when huge number nines were a bit out of favor, but today a lot of clubs understand that they need that kind of striker – with all these speedy guys in and around the box, you need this big number nine as well.”

“Not only is he big and strong like a number nine, but he’s also swift. So he can play in front of any team’s back four or back three, and in modern football, where counter-attacks are crucial, he also fits the bill.”

Why Haaland can take Man City to next level

Berntsen claims that when Haaland was at Salzburg, the world’s best teams were reluctant to recognize his potential, yet Dortmund has proven to be an excellent environment to develop his talent.

“When he was at Salzburg, I told him that if the big six or seven teams in the world don’t sign him, they’ll be making a huge mistake,” he adds. “They probably had no idea how good he was. He surprised everyone, but when we saw how well he did in Salzburg, we thought the sky was the limit.”

Now, according to Fjortoft, the Norwegian international is one of the few players capable of taking Manchester City to the next level.

“Pep Guardiola hated playing with a huge number nine,” Fjortoft recalls. “But, as you’ve seen at Manchester City over the last couple of seasons, taking the next step requires that as well.

“He’ll also be able to see who he can play with. It’s fantastic for a striker to have the services of guys like Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and others.”

Haaland told the Manchester City official website when his deal was confirmed: “I’ve always enjoyed watching City, and I’ve especially enjoyed it in recent seasons. You can’t help but love their style of play; it’s fast-paced and plenty of opportunities, which is ideal for a player like me.

“I believe I am in the best environment to achieve my goals since this squad contains so many world-class players and Pep is one of the greatest managers of all time.

“I want to score goals, win trophies, and improve my footballing abilities. I’m confident I’ll be able to accomplish so here. This is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I’m looking forward to getting started in pre-season.”

Txiki Begiristain, the city’s director of football, added: “He is a fantastic talent who has been one of Europe’s top scorers in recent seasons. His goal-scoring record is outstanding, and his achievements at Borussia Dortmund, particularly in the Champions League, have shown that he can compete at the greatest level.