The highly rated teenager who took the Champions League by storm

Erling Braut Haaland hit a remarkable first-half hat-trick against Genk last night.

Erling Braut Haaland pictured competing against Genk.
Erling Braut Haaland pictured competing against Genk.
Image: Fotostand/Wassmuth

LAST NIGHT, ERLING Braut Haaland became the third youngest player ever to score a Champions League hat-trick, as Red Bull Salzburg thrashed Belgian champions Genk 6-2.

At 19 years and 58 days, only Real Madrid legend Raul (18y 113d in 1995) and Wayne Rooney (18y 340d in 2004) achieved this feat at a younger age.

Before last night, not too many football fans from this part of the world will have been overly familiar with the prowess of the youngster, who is the son of ex-Leeds United and Man City player Alf Inge Haaland.

But the teenage striker is considered one of the brightest prospects in Europe.

While yesterday was his Champions League debut and the highest level he has been tested at thus far, he has already shown enormous potential.

Salzburg have started the season with seven wins on the bounce, and Haaland has been pivotal to their progress, scoring 11 league goals.

Tuesday evening was not even his first hat-trick at senior level — he also grabbed three goals in the in a 7-1 victory over SC-ESV Parndorf 1919 in the Austrian Cup back in July, coupled with a Bundesliga hat-trick against Wolfsberger AC in August and another three against TSV Hartberg earlier this month.

Haaland was born in Leeds in 2000 when his father was playing for the then-Premier League club, but the youngster has represented Norway throughout the underage ranks.

Earlier this year, he set a new record for most goals scored at the U20 World Cup in a single match, registering nine in a 12-0 win over Honduras and subsequently taking the Golden Boot at the tournament.

It was just the latest achievement in a remarkable rise that saw him break into Norwegian side Byrne FK’s first team at the age of just 15, having managed 18 goals in 14 games for the reserve team.

He then was offered a trial by Bundesliga club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, before signing with Molde in February 2017. He impressed there too, scoring 14 goals in 39 league appearances prompting then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to liken him to Romelu Lukaku (he also is being guided by the Belgian international’s former agent, Mino Raiola), while he was dubbed ‘the manchild’ due to his phenomenal growth at such a young age.

He surprisingly rejected the advances of Juventus among others and joined Salzburg on a five-year deal last January, citing guaranteed playing time as a decisive factor in the move, and he has continued to score freely ever since. Such impressive form also prompted a senior international debut with Norway in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta earlier this month.

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Unsurprisingly, given the Solskjaer connection, he has been linked with a move to Man United in recent times.

However, in an interview with Norwegian newspaper VG, Solskjaer admitted: “He is probably not the world’s biggest Manchester United fan.”

Indeed, a 2017 interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten quoted Haaland as saying: “The dream is to win the Premier League with Leeds. In addition, the goal is to become a better player than my dad was. I hope to get more caps than he did.”

Haaland has been praised for his professionalism, work ethic, physicality and technical ability.

He is also an example of a young player whose development, in such a short space of time, has been drastic.

“The first time he turned up at Molde I didn’t think he was all that,” ex-team-mate Ruben told Nettavisen. “But then he developed in a way I’ve never seen in my whole life. He is stronger than he looks and he is a lot quicker than he looks — he is a beast.”

Provided he avoids injury and maintains his current rate of progress, Haaland is surely destined for greater stages than the Austrian Bundesliga.

For now though, Haaland insists he is not thinking about a move away and remains fully committed to Salzburg.

The teenager’s next major test, meanwhile, could hardly be much more high-profile — a Champions League clash against Liverpool at Anfield on 2 October.

Former Ireland performance analyst and current coaching wizard of OZ Eoin Toolan joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to predict Ireland’s World Cup, break down every pool, and call the overall winners.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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