23 goal involvements in 11 matches and a hat-trick in his first UEFA Champions League game, an award for the best player in the elite competition's first game week, current Champions League top scorer and in the Golden Boy Top 20. For most it would be an impossible dream to have notched up this kind of list of extraordinary achievements by the age of just 19, but for Erling Haaland it seems to be all part of his everyday business! During the international break we met up with our Norwegian talent, who is always good fun, at Salzburg's iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress – and we soon realised that his successes are no accident.
There was huge media interest in August 2018 when we announced the signing of Erling Haaland – a highly talented young Norwegian that top European clubs had been chasing. There were great expectations from outside the club as the big striker first came to Salzburg in January 2019. Big Earl found his feet quickly, performing really well in our preparations during the winter break, but he was a spectator for most of his first half year at the club. "The club were determined to sign me. Christoph [Freund] and Johannes [Jahns] gave me this feeling in every conversation and pointed out to me the way things are done and the opportunities here in Salzburg. It was clearly communicated to me that the first half of a year would be difficult for me and I would need the time to settle in, but from the summer I should be able to take a leading role in the team. The club bosses kept their word, and that impressed me - as it's not always the case in football. I was happy to accept their plan, and it has paid off completely", says our goalscoring machine, who works hard every day on himself and gives everything he physically can in every training session, in looking back on his start here.
He also assesses his current situation by saying: "I was sure that this season would be my season. I'm aware that I am very important for the team and I can help them. So far I have been able to do that. We have a hungry team, we are highly focused in our play, and we are all proud and appreciative of what we have here in Salzburg. We can really achieve a lot together in Europe and Austria this year and make a big statement."
My father has experienced a lot himself and can therefore give me important tips.
Erling is a little crazy in his own way, but in a positive sense. On the one hand he manages to keep his clear plan in sight and subordinates everything to pursuing his aims while he keeps his focus high, but on the other hand he comes across as a totally relaxed, fun-loving young guy who enjoys the moment. This combination of qualities, with a vital support provider behind him, works wonders. Unsurprisingly his father, who takes the role of both his best friend and agent, is the most important person behind him. "The combination of what he offers is ideal. He covers all important areas and helps me in every situation. My father has experienced a lot himself and can therefore give me important tips that can make me better and improve me even more as a person. It's good that he really likes Salzburg and often comes here. I really have the feeling that I have a lot people with great character around me," says the 194cm attacker in appreciation.
It became clear at an early age that Erling is an extremely talented sportsman and there was hardly anything he couldn't do. "There are few sports that I can't do well. Well, golf is not one of my favourite things," he explains. He then adds an amusing anecdote with a big grin: "It might sound pretty funny, but for many years I was the record holder for under-fives in the standing long jump. I have no clue how the idea came about to keep a record of that kind of thing, but I was apparently much better than all the others. It has carried on like that through my life and I am trying to carry that into football now."
It is something special to be on the same list with players that you mostly only know from TV.
Few people know that he really respects the opinions of a friend of his living in Molde, Alexander. He is in some way responsible for the special glasses that Erling wears in an evening, saying: "We are always trying to do everything better and are looking for things that help me and can make me even better. Alexander advised me to wear glasses in an evening that filter blue light out from television and mobile phones. That has a positive impact on the sleep hormone melatonin – which helps me to sleep better and my body to recover better. He really knows his stuff in these areas, and he has become a great friend who I trust." It might seem like a small detail, but it shows the Norwegian's character and really says a lot about his professional attitude.
Erling Haaland has a different life to others his age. His intense passion for football and will to make things happen shone through at an early age. Why did he want to be a striker and not a defensive midfielder like his father? Quite simply: "That was pretty boring for me. I wanted to go forward all the time and score goals. It was soon clear I was going to be a striker." It may sound like it was always a fixed plan but it wasn't always so easy. Between the age of 15 and 16 he grew by as much as 12 centimetres. That changed his style of play, and he had to reinvent himself and rediscover his physique.
Looking back now, he did that impeccably. Big Earl, as he is known with affection in Salzburg, is currently in the Top 20 of the Golden Boy award, which really pleased him when he first found out, but after the past few months is no great surprise. "It is something special to be on the same list with players that you mostly only know from TV. I was already pleased to hear I was in the top 100. Then I started to play really well and was able to score a lot of goals. From that perspective it isn't such a great surprise," he tells us with a wink.
They come to watch good football and be entertained.
To finish off we wanted to speak one last time about the UEFA Champions League, which is looking like it could be the competition of Erling Haaland. He says: "Champions League matches have always fascinated me, and the anthem has been a real part of my life since my childhood. Now I am a part of it, of course, and I listen to it as a player in the stadium. It's just incredible. Some people think I'm a bit crazy for listening to the anthem in the car or at home. It drives me on and has the potential to be my favourite song for the rest of my life," says the Norwegian. He adds that he loves interacting with his own fans on the pitch - "They come to watch good football and be entertained" - and enjoys responding to photo and autograph requests from his fans in his free time. A close relationship between fans and players is very important for him and a decisive factor for success. The energy that rubs off from the fans onto the players - especially in home matches - is probably one reason why we haven't lost in our home fortress for close to three years. That's why we made the choice to meet Erling Haaland at the Hohensalzburg Fortress, as a reminder of the incredible run at the Red Bull Arena we want to continue against SSC Napoli!
Erling is, after all, part of the team that has already made history with their first ever participation in the Champions League, with an incredibly emotional 6-2 home win taken against Genk before we made defending champions Liverpool very nervous. "We have shown that our team belongs in this competition, and that we can compete with any set of opponents and take something from them", says the well-known Zlatan Ibrahimovic fan in making clear what we are aiming for in the remaining four group stage matches. Erling has one thing in common with his idol: "You can take a lot of things from Zlatan, especially in the mental area. He has shown at every club that he is the best. That really impresses me. That is also my aim!"
There is something magic in the air at matches like this. You can sense the excitement and see twinkles in the eyes of the fans and the players. They are evenings you will probably remember for the rest of your life. Evenings you might end up telling your grandchildren about: "I was in Salzburg when we played Napoli at home in the UEFA Champions League …!"