The next Christiano Ronaldo, somebody commended when Joao Felix signed for Athletico Madrid, back in 2019. However, as we know, Joao failed to live up to his expectations and similar to many others in the past the search for a new prodigy kept on progressing. In addition, as we speak, we know from years of mediocrity and marketing, we never saw a player that we could compare with Ronaldo or Messi in the last decade. The quality and level of football both these legends possess often overshadowed their predecessors.
However, as the world was celebrating the glory of Ronaldo’s incredible year of 2017, a new prodigy was taking shape in Norway. Standing 6’4, with an unusual footballing style, 16 year old Erling Braut Haaland was making headlines in Eliteserien. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who was then the coach of Molde, even compared him to Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku. Not to mention, Ole was a driving force behind the emergence of Haaland on to the centre stage of world football today. Haaland also finished the 2018 season as Molde’s top goalscorer, scoring sixteen goals in thirty matches across all competitions.
STYLE of play
Haaland is not a typical striker you see in Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane or even Lukaku itself. The versatility of being a striker who could cope well with the demands of modern-day football is what makes Haaland, one of the most sought after players in the world. Just keeping aside the fact, that the dude is huge, one could also notice in awe how easily he dribbles past defenders. For instance, consider the game of last season when Dortmund faced off with Union Berlin.
In this match, Union Berlin were defending under constant threat after Sancho had managed to easily score the opener. This often created a 5-6 man defence for Berlin in the later stages of the game, which left little room for a striker to create anything. Nevertheless, the Norwegian striker found a gap between 3-4 defenders to get on the end of Julian Brandt’s early cross to score. It was not something that a defender would fail to notice. However, with defenders all around, the 20-year-old still managed to find the back of the net. The 3rd goal in the 4-0 against Freiburg last year, showed how good Haaland is in finding the perfect space to score, allowing his teammates to set him up perfectly. The majority of goals this season highlights how Dortmund favours counterattacking with Haaland upfront, right at the receiving end of crosses and through balls. As a goal poacher and an excellent playmaker, Haaland is an exception in modern football one for the future.
His pace on and off the ball is one of the major weapons he has in his arsenal. His speed with his unusual physique makes it harder for defenders to stop the Norweigian international. Unusual for a striker of such physical structure, Haaland is excellent in finding spaces and gaps in opponents play as well. This works for him as a goalscorer as well as a playmaker. As we see in contemporary football, the role of Center Forward is becoming more and more important as each year passes by as strikers take the centre stage in dictating the play. Like them, this role fits ideally for Haaland as well, making him suitable for playing under multiple styles of footballing philosophies. Haaland is intelligent in setting up players in a diamond formation when in attack or in dropping deeper to dictate the pace of the play. In Dortmund for instance, Haaland is given enough space by Edin Terzić to dictate play in the middle. Often falling deeper into the attacking midfielder role, Haaland swiftly changes his positions throughout the game. This leaves opponents man marking in jeopardy. Often driven away from their position, teams are forced to double the body in the box to stop Dortmund. This is where Haaland is more dangerous; with his fluidity and excellent ball playing, he dominates the game. The ability to make smart movements in pocket spaces within the penalty area and change half chances to goals with an excellent conversion rate is a unique quality in the Norweigian. It is also highly unlikely, we will come across players of similar stature who can swiftly change the body movement in front of a goal or move like a passive dribbler. Both the player and his teammates are well aware of these bogus movements made by the Norwegian inside the box. In addition, Hakimi and Sancho with their excellent ball-playing capabilities read the game very well in favour of Haaland.
Once in attack, Haaland can often move right through the defensive line, staying onside and finding the back of the net seconds later. Dortmund often uses this advantage in their counter-attacks. This essentially leaves teams with a high backline vulnerable in defence. Being a natural poacher in front of goal with both feet, Haaland is equally dangerous on both sides of the pitch as well. At Dortmund, he also has the luxury of playing with likeminded players who are ready to give him space and time to progress. What makes things more special is that Haaland seemingly is not a player that fits into the perfect combination play and one-touch-passing football. However, with his strength, excellent timing, quick pace and superb finishing ability, Haaland has somehow managed to blend himself into the team.
For example, let us rewind a little, and look at his midseason switch to Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg. Even though he was signed in the midseason, he still managed to add 9 goals in his first 6 Bundesliga appearances for the black and yellow. Not to mention he managed a hat-trick in his debut against Augsburg and became the first player in history to score 7 goals in the first 3 Bundesliga games. Haaland also concluded the 2019–20 campaign with 44 goals in 40 club appearances across all competitions. Haaland’s movement and his intelligence is something that made Dortmund quite a sensation in Europe as well. This was pretty much on a show as they managed a memorable 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League, with both goals, a product of the Norwegian. In addition, his 2 goals in the Champions League last 16 against Sevilla (3-2) and the 2 in Munich are a clear sign of just how good he is for the club.
Off the ball, on the ball, Haaland reminds some people of Ronaldinho, with a unique style and quality to change the complexion of the game. The way the former Brazilian dominated the game a decade ago in Laliga is somehow similar to what Haaland is doing now in Germany.
Notable amounts of his goals this season was a product of his physical dominance in the penalty area. With Dortmund often playing wider, Haaland often finds himself at the end of the receiving end inside the box. This advantage alone cannot guarantee a goal if you are not in the right position at the right time. However, Haaland’s brilliance in reading the play inside the box makes him a target man for the black and yellow club every single time.
Haaland also dominates in the air as well with defenders struggling to deal with his physical nature and positional play. This allows Dortmund to place Haaland as a decoy for defenders, leaving enough spaces for other attackers to open up the game. Dortmund often play wider and love to play a longer pass, deliver a high cross, or float one over top of the opposition defence. These key passes for their danger man are alike in custom to that of Robert Lewandowski at Bayern Munich.
Interestingly, Dortmund’s dependency on their Norwegian forward seems to be more than what one sees on the field. As of now, they place Haaland as the centre of their attacking formation that swiftly changes style when in attack. The team itself creates a vacuum of space for the striker to move around. With Haaland having a natural quality in dictating a game, it is a common sight to see how easily he shrugs off defenders to break the defensive line and set the game on fire. His intelligence in finding empty spaces and delivering cutbacks and through balls for teammates often leaves opponents in search of new ways to defend against his team. Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi and Thorgan Hazard have all managed to buy into this style of play with Haaland in the middle. With European clubs, circling it is still unclear where the future lies for this fantastic young talent. Nevertheless, until then, it is sure that, Haaland is going to continue his goal-scoring spree for the German side.