This week marks one year since Erling Haaland made his Borussia Dortmund debut, signalling the start of a 12-month period which would see the talismanic marksman and son of ex-Premier League defender Alf-Inge Haaland launched into the spotlight of European and world football.
The New Big Thing
Two touches was all it needed.
By the time Thiago Silva had realised what was going on, the ball was already past Keylor Navas. Goal. Dortmund were ahead. Slumped on the floor of the Signal Iduna Park, Silva pointed a finger and looked to the sky. The seasoned professional had seen everything in world football, but Erling Braut Haaland wasn’t of this Earth.
We are constantly told about players that are going to be ‘the next big thing’. Plucky teenagers causing waves in the academies and lower leagues are eulogised before they’ve barely played a minute. YouTube videos of them doing 632 rainbow-flicks in a row whilst juggling a can of Pepsi on their forehead are plastered across social media and shared relentlessly. Few make the cut.
The shelf life of ‘prodigies’ is short. If they don’t deliver immediately, they’re under fire, and questions surrounding their talent begin to surface. Doubts were raised after perennial Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund turned to a 19-year-old playing in Austria to help try and topple eternal champions Bayern Munich. Another ‘generational talent’ at another big club – the chances for success were slim. It took Haaland no time to prove his doubters wrong, scoring a debut hattrick in 23 minutes.
Okay, granted Dortmund hadn’t plucked Haaland from the seventh tier of Austrian football, and his hype had some justification, most notably down to his impeccable goal-scoring record for Red Bull Salzburg and Norway’s youth sides such as when Haaland helped himself to nine goals in a 12-0 victory against Honduras during the 2019 U20 World Cup. Even so, the move wasn’t foolproof, and Dortmund knew this.
Dortmund Make the Swoop
Every top club imaginable had kept tabs on the striker. Yet with Haaland still in his teenage years and with no experience in Europe’s top leagues, the list of potential suiters began to shorten. Dortmund were left to take a €20 million risk on the Norwegian, signing the striker on a four-and-a-half-year contract at the start of the January 2020 transfer window, a gamble which twelve months down the line has already proved to be shrewd business.
Having grown an affinity with scoring Champions League goals – he scored a hattrick in his competition debut for Salzburg against Genk – it was only natural that Haaland would dominate proceedings when Paris St Germain came to Westphalia. Already on the scoresheet after poking home from close range earlier in the match, Haaland sent the Signal Iduna (and the entire world), into pandemonium with his crunching second from long range. On a stage containing Di Maria, Neymar, and Mbappe, it was the son of a unruly Premier League defender who stole the show. This was Erling Haaland’s watershed moment, the latest pièce de resistance in his gallery of wonder goals.
A strong start to life in Dortmund was maintained up until and after football was stopped because of the pandemic. In trademark style, it took Haaland just 29 minutes before scoring in the first game post-lockdown. His goal was one of four without reply against Revierderby rivals FC Schalke 04. A final tally of 13 for the 2019-20 campaign wasn’t enough to steal the title away from Bayern, but Haaland’s goal contribution steered Dortmund to a second place finish and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.
Haaland made headlines for the wrong reasons in the close season, after a video appeared picturing the Dortmund starlet being dragged out of a Norwegian night club by security. News of Haaland’s whereabouts had spread, and a crowd eager to catch a glimpse of nations’ hottest talent had gathered. The teenager born in Yorkshire was now in the bigtime.
Picking Up Where Haaland Left Off
The 2020/21 season started in familiar fashion for Erling Haaland. Eight goals in his first nine appearances of the season across all competitions, including a first strike against Bayern in the Super Cup, appeared to have provided a platform for Dortmund’s core of young and exciting talents to push on and challenge at the top. Despite no let-up on the Haaland goals, Dortmund stumbled, and a run of one win in five Bundesliga matches spelled the end for Lucian Favre, who was relieved of his duties as Dortmund boss in mid-December.
In Europe, his form translated over from the 2019-20 campaign. A brace against Club Brugge in November saw Haaland become the fastest player to reach 15 (and then 16) goals in the Champions League. In the build-up to a pivotal clash with Lazio, news broke that the Norwegian had suffered a hamstring injury which would keep the striker out for the rest of the year, denting BVB’s prospects both in domestic and continental competitions. Dortmund picked up a point against Lazio and trudged to a first-place finish in the group, finishing three points ahead of the Italians.
A shortened winter break in the Bundesliga has seen football return to Germany earlier than usual, and Dortmund, revitalised under the new management of Edin Terzić, are set for an edge-of-the-seat 2021. Their talisman is back and firing, too. A statement 3-1 victory against title rivals RB Leipzig featured a characteristic Haaland double on his return from injury.
Dortmund’s season hasn’t been great, but with Haaland they stand a chance. Fixture congestion has seen leagues across Europe turned upside down, and if there was ever a season to end Bayern’s dominance, it would be now. A winnable round-of-16 tie against Sevilla in the Champions League, makes BVB favourites to progress into the quarter-final, after that who knows.
Every pass Haaland makes, every shot he takes and every goal he scores is a Wikipedia entry waiting to happen – the Norwegian seems to make history every time he steps on the pitch. Whether or not he spends the next twelve months in the black and yellow of Dortmund, or elsewhere, the talent displayed by Haaland over the last year is enough evidence to suggest his tag as one of Europe’s best strikers is well and truly justified.