The meteoric rise of Erling Braut Haaland took the football world by surprise. From a teenager who made his senior debut at just 15 years old to a world-beater at Borussia Dortmund, his journey has been nothing short of remarkable. He has always appeared destined for one of Europe's top clubs, so confirmation of his summer 2022 move to Manchester City came as little surprise.
Once he scored nine goals for Norway's youth side in a 12-0 victory over Honduras in the Under-20 World Cup in Poland ‘a performance that kept European giants on high alert,’ he has since not looked back and through goal-filled stints under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Molde, Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg and three different managers at Dortmund, the 6ft 4ins striker became one of the best forwards in world football while still in his teenage years. Aged just 20 in March 2020, Haaland broke the record for the fewest games needed to score 20 Champions League goals, reaching that milestone in an astonishing 14 appearances.
Haaland has all the attributes of a complete centre-forward. Like a machine, he uses his sizeable frame to hold play up effectively and involve others an attribute Pep Guardiola’s side currently are without. He has the pace and clever movement to run in behind, he can dribble and create, and he can finish with both feet and his head. For all of the many impressive aspects of his game, though, he is primarily a goalscorer – and he scores them in a simply astounding fashion.
His clever movement and lethal finishing make a deadly combination. He happily comes deep to collect the ball to help his team build play, often looking to spread the ball wide for a teammate, before turning and sprinting towards goal. He sometimes comes so deep that defenders will not follow him. When this happens, he has the awareness to turn on the ball and create from a forward-facing position.
Haaland’s pace off the ball is another of his attribute that will cause opponents real problems. Where others might labour in making a second run if they have been ignored after the first, or may be slow to catch up with play once they have come deep to link, Haaland shows great desire to make another run and get into a goalscoring position. He uses his huge stride to sprint past opponents, and he is so fast that he often overtakes players who have had a significant head-start on him. He is constantly on the move and, as a result, he consistently tests his opponents’ concentration and stamina. Any lapse and he is more than capable of taking advantage.
When playing against a lower block in the final third, his movement is a little more subtle. He stays on the move as his team circulates play in midfield, constantly trying to find a position where he is out of the line of sight of both central defenders.
He makes small, sharp movements as he approaches goal. When he spots an opportunity for a teammate to attempt to find him in space, he changes the line on which he is running and accelerate into that space, giving the defender little chance to react. Those double movements, often combined with a feint away from the ball, make him extremely difficult for defenders to read in those all-important moments close to goal. This ability to move plays a huge part in him scoring so frequently and is something that would make him well-suited to Manchester City's football under Pep Guardiola.
Not forgetting his penalty-area presence and his exceptional link-up play, Haaland sure has the ability and requirement to fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola’s monstrous attack.
Of a truth, Jesse Marsch's Salzburg were more of a threat on the transition than the Dortmund sides Haaland played in, and his direct forward runs, both on and off the ball were effective, especially when he was paired with a second center-forward. He would draw defenders toward the ball, creating space for his strike partner to run in behind. So how he fits into a possession-oriented Manchester City is one a host of football lovers will look forward to seeing.
Citizens will hope the addition of the Norwegian alongside Argentine Julian Alvarez will bring them the highly coveted UCL trophy.