By Jonny Garwood
Despite a storied career at Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Manchester City, and having once been held as an up and coming prospect, in English football, the name ‘Haaland’ is perhaps most synonymous with that horror challenge from Roy Keane 20 years ago, in which the glittering career of Alfe Inge Haaland was prematurely cut short when his knee was severely damaged. Indeed, this controversy was marked by Keane appearing to endure the Norwegian in a fit of rage as he lay prone at his feet, with the Irishman later describing the scenes as an ‘act of revenge’ in an interview with the Observer in 2002, following an earlier challenge from Haaland during his time at Leeds, due to which Keane snapped a cruciate ligament and was left out injured for the rest of the season. In some of the most bizarre and controversial proceedings in the sporting world at the time, and despite pleas of innocence at a disciplinary hearing in 2002 – in which Keane remarked his tackle was a ‘genuine effort to play the ball’ – the Irishman received a five-game ban from the FA and a £150,000 fine. Haaland only played six more times for club and country, and himself refused to make a direct link between the end of his playing days and that challenge by Roy Keane, however, he has always been quick to state that there was some correlation.
Recently on the block, is another young prospect taking on the ‘Haaland’ mantle. Erling Haaland, son of Alfe Inge, is one of a number of footballing prospects with parents prominent or formerly involved in professional sports, with others including teammate Giovanni Reyna and Manchester City’s Leroy Sane. Described as a ‘rare and exceptional talent’ by his father in an interview on Norwegian TV, it was never doubted that Erling would quickly follow in his father’s footsteps – one way or another. Often remarking that much of inspiration for his success was down to Northern European compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland has quick to make a name for himself both within and outside of the sporting scene – for a number of reasons. Having initially made strides in the athletics field, last month, in a Champions League fixture versus Paris Saint-Germain, the player scored a brace, much acclaim was given to the player’s work ethic, his remarkable endurance and those distance runs which during portions of the game, eclipsing all attention to the action on the pitch.
Indeed, it was before Dortmund that he caught the eye of a number of world-renowned European clubs, due to his form at Red Bull Salzburg, and prior to that, Molde FK. Linked to Manchester United and his former manager Ole Gunnar Soljskaer, amongst a host of other top clubs such as Real Madrid and Juventus, it would have been a contrast had he chosen to go to the red side of Manchester, given his father’s distaste for the club and his earlier comments towards the Red Devils following his injury and Erling’s support of Leeds United and Manchester City growing up. Comments from his father this week suggested that he would be seen to be a better fit for Spanish giants Real Madrid, where he would follow in the footsteps of Karim Benzema.
Off the pitch, the player, nicknamed ‘manchild’ due to his noticeable size and strength, has become renowned for his rapping exploits, during his early playing days. Taking on the stage name of ‘Lyng’ and performing alongside fellow Norway compatriots Erik Botheim and Erik Tobias Sandberg, Haaland’s YouTube rap to a Kygo inspired track has become viral on social media, with the hit song drawing in over two million views – and so much so, that this has become a prominent theme regarding Haaland amongst members of the Dortmund team in press interviews and post-match clips. It was clear that the young Norwegian, known formally as Erling Braut, would always make his mark in some form on the sporting scene and, even today, he holds the longest standing long jump for 5 year olds, setting the record at 1.63 metres in 2006 and as consequence, making clear the level of athletic talent at an ingrained level.
Haaland is one of a number of up and coming talents who are likely to be contention for the mantle currently held by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and held in a similar regard. It could be said that the Norwegian is likely to rival the likes of Kylian Mbappe and other young talents for the Ballon d’Or in the future, as the aforementioned duo reach the pinnacle of their careers, and no doubt this will be a prominent factor by which the tabloid press may like to discuss for many years to come.