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September 20, 2019

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England the likely next stop for Haaland

Mention the name “Haaland” to the average soccer fan, particularly someone from England, and thoughts might go back to one of the most vicious fouls ever committed in the English Premier League.

That day in 2001, Alf-Inge Haaland — playing for Manchester City then — was on the receiving end of a studs-first challenge on his right knee by Manchester United captain Roy Keane at Old Trafford that brought about threats of legal action and resulted in a long ban for Keane.

Eighteen years on, there’s another Haaland rising to prominence and with a strong likelihood of making a name for himself in English soccer.

Erling Braut Haaland, the 19-year-old son of Alfe-Inge, is one of the most talked about young players in the world because of his scoring exploits on the youth international scene with Norway, in the domestic league in Austria and — most recently — in the Champions League.

By netting three first-half goals for Salzburg against Genk on Tuesday, he became the third-youngest player to score a Champions League hat trick — after Raul Gonzalez for Real Madrid and Wayne Rooney for United, and took his season tally for the Austrian club to 17 goals in nine games. That now includes four hat tricks.

Oh, and there’s also the small matter of Haaland scoring nine goals for Norway in an Under-20 World Cup game against Honduras in May. It wasn’t a surprise that he was immediately called up to the senior national team, making his debut in the recent European Championship qualifiers against Malta and Sweden.

Standing at 1.94 meters and easily identifiable with his broad shoulders and swept-back blond hair, Haaland cannot be missed on the field. Still a teenager, he is already an intimidating presence by the way he can shrug off opponents and drive forward with the ball at his feet. He clearly knows where the goal is, too.

No real shock, then, that he is already being linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including in England — where he was born.

“His heart is close to England so he’d like an opportunity to go to England, maybe even in January,” said Pal Fjelde, a former teammate of the youngster at Norwegian side Bryne. “I’m not putting more pressure on him, but as long as he keeps his attitude and his feet on the ground, he will continue to progress.

“This is just the start.”

Haaland has already spoken of one day playing for Leeds, the northern city where he was born (his father played for Leeds). Fjelde also says he has heard Haaland speak about City — his father’s final club before retirement in 2003 at age 30 because of a serious knee injury. The Haalands then moved back to Norway, when Erling was 3.

Given what happened to his father at Old Trafford all those years back, a move for Haaland to the red half of Manchester appears unlikely, even if United is now managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — a compatriot who recently coached Haaland at Norwegian team Molde for two seasons from 2017.


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