This article was first published in Champions Journal. Read the original article here.
Who knows how many goals Erling Haaland might have scored had Pep Guardiola not ended his fun after 63 minutes of Manchester City’s rout of RB Leipzig? Haaland had to make do with the five he struck in a 36-minute burst either side of half-time on a night we would call extraordinary, were it not for the way he is redefining the goalscorer’s art on a weekly basis.
The five-goal haul took his Champions League tally to 33 in just 25 appearances. He also became only the third player to score five goals in a Champions League fixture, keeping company with Lionel Messi, who claimed his nap hand for Barcelona against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012, and Luiz Adriano, who matched that feat for Shakhtar Donetsk against BATE Borisov in 2014. Both those players contested the full 90 minutes.
“It could be he was a bit annoyed at coming off,” says Pål Arne Johansen, Haaland’s coach from Under-18 to Under-20 level for Norway. “On an intellectual level he would understand it, because of his schedule and injury history. But emotionally he might think, deep in his heart, ‘Argh, I lost my chance to score seven.’ This is Erling, it’s a beautiful side of him.”
Johansen did not rain on the young striker’s parade by hauling him off when, as an 18-year-old, he scored nine times against Honduras at the 2019 U20 World Cup. Now in charge of Norwegian club Odds BK, Johansen believes Haaland is the best “individual player” to come out of his country. “Everybody knows it, but the striker with the best honours, that is to come. He’s not achieved more than Ole Gunnar Solskjær, nor played in a big championship for his country.
“Nothing about his ability surprises me. What impresses me most is how stable he is. Even with all the attention, he consistently scores and performs well. Normally when you are young or a striker, it is up and down. The challenge now is to be like Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo and do it every year.”
But there is more to Haaland than goals. “Erling would rather win than score, if it was a choice between the two. He’s a team player. He was very joyful, happy in the dressing room. It came even more alive when he was there. He was a mood maker.
“My first encounter with him was just after I’d been appointed Norway Under-18 manager. I travelled to see a couple of players at Erling’s club, Bryne. It was winter: cold and dark. I stayed to watch first-team training and Erling had these colourful tights under his shorts, which was so unusual. They were playing 5v5, 2v1, 3v2, so there were lots of goals. I remember how happy he was if he or a team-mate scored. He was so occupied with his celebration that the opposition might score in the next attack. You could feel the joy of playing and scoring, even in the depressing Norwegian weather. It created a very nice atmosphere on the pitch.”
Haaland is now lighting up Champions League nights with that boyish enthusiasm. Watching a player progress while implementing the lessons learned coming up through the ranks is one of the thrills of coaching at youth level. And in the full article, Johansen casts that coach’s eye over Haaland’s five goals against Leipzig and reflects on the traits they highlight in his game.