Erling Braut Haaland certainly picked an opportune moment to spectacularly announce himself on the European stage.
The Norwegian youngster, at just a tender 18 years of age, burst into the limelight after a scintillating Champions League hat-trick against Genk – already his fourth trio of the campaign for Red Ball Salzburg.
The starlet is clearly no stranger to scoring goals, and is firmly in the midst of a rich vein of form that has attracted admiring glances from several of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Erling Braut Haaland’s Premier League audition may arrive against Liverpool on Wednesday
Manchester United remain at the front of a lengthy queue in the race for Haaland’s signature, and the Norwegian will be able to further press home his claim for a Premier League move if he is fielded against one of the world’s most steadfast defences.
Salzburg’s frontman could be tasked with evading the clutches of Liverpool stalwart Virgil van Dijk on Wednesday, a formidable task which countless others have failed at during the towering Dutchman’s time at Anfield.
On paper this may even seem like one step too far for Haaland, but his turbulent path to a first European treble has seen him defy expectations at every turn.
His three goals against Genk had stemmed from a ruthless simplicity.
The first arrived in under two minutes from a rasping drive, and the second was a result of textbook forward play, having timed his run to perfection before slotting across the goalkeeper. The third was netted with consummate ease from close range, signalling the arrival of Norway’s latest prodigy, following Martin Odegaard’s earlier emergence.
Haaland’s opportunistic penalty area prowess quite simply shredded the opponents’ defence apart, and helped him achieve a feat not seen since Wayne Rooney’s famous heroics as a teenager in 2004.
Red Bull Salzburg’s starlet had scored a hat-trick in the demolition of Genk earlier this month
ERLING BRAUT HAALAND FACT FILE
Place of birth: Leeds, England
– 16 appearances, 0 goals
– 50 appearances, 20 goals
Red Bull Salzburg (2019-)
– 15 appearances, 18 goals
– 2 appearances, 0 goals
But in the wake of the 6-2 demolition, Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch instead opted to focus on the starlet’s character.
‘Haaland is a great player, but even more [important] for me is that he’s a great young man,’ he had said. ‘He shows up every day, he works hard and takes nothing for granted. We’re really lucky to have him here and if we can keep him fit, he’s only going to get better.’
High praise indeed, and the signs for the future are certainly burning bright. Haaland is closely watched over by his father, who had notoriously been on the receiving end of Roy Keane’s scything tackle in 2001, and agent Mino Raiola.
He possesses a wise head on his shoulders and continues to remain firmly grounded despite the continued alluring potential of a switch to a European superpower.
But in the fledgling days of his career, the son of Alf-Inge Haaland may have been forgiven for believing he would never reach the dizzy heights of professional football.
The youngster had endured a 16-game scoring drought for his boyhood club Byrne in the Norwegian second division, and also failed to impress during a trial at Hoffenheim as a 16-year-old.
Haaland’s growth into one of football’s hottest prospects began at Norwegian side Molde
It wasn’t until he had secured a move to Molde that Haaland’s soaring trajectory to become one of football’s hottest prospects burst into life.
The wonderkid, affectionately given the nickname ‘manchild’ at the club because of his lowly stature, piled on the pounds in order to sculpt himself into a figure capable of thriving in even the most harsh of arenas along the shores of Scandinavia.
‘He must have put on 10-12 kilos since he arrived here at the start of the year,’ said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Molde’s manager at the time. ‘It’s all muscles of course – as well as a lot of confidence.’
And with his newfound belief came a torrent of goals. Haaland netted 16 times in all competitions during his second season under Solskjaer, his lethality notably honed under the Norwegian tactician.
In July 2018, he then recorded a four-goal haul against league leaders Brann. Before that clash, the opposition had conceded just five times in their 14 fixtures. Haaland took just 20 minutes to dismantle them.
It wasn’t long until Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen began to circle, but his eventual decision to instead move to Austria raised eyebrows across the continent. However, it was Haaland’s grounded nature and level-headed thinking that had both come to the fore once again.
The 18-year-old decided to join Red Bull Salzburg and rebuff Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen
After completing the bargain £8million deal, the Norwegian said in January: ‘I was obviously flattered by Juventus being interested. But I thought that it was too early to go there. Salzburg was the club that suited me the best and they were the ones who wanted me the most. There is more of a chance of playing here.’
His surprise switch proved to be a masterstroke.
In a league which entices larger crowds and greater media coverage, Haaland has scored 17 goals in nine games this season for the side in pole position.
He had also written himself into the sport’s annals after bagging nine times in Norway’s Under-20s World Cup clash with Honduras in May.
But despite setting the record, the star retains an inherent humility – a stark contrast to his dead-eyed, hitman-like precision when bearing down on goal.
And his rise from the most unlikely of locations, a substantial distance away from the sun-drenched favelas of Brazil or Spain’s gloriously golden regions, demonstrates that talent can be plucked from any corner of the globe.
It would be the least bit surprising if Haaland was to steal the headlines against Liverpool
Haaland will be hoping to prove this when he takes on English opposition for the first time. He isn’t the first Scandinavian to launch a ruthless assault on Europe, but threatens to continue his relentless task to become one of the most feared strikers in the world.
For many, a hat-trick in the Champions League would quite rightly be the pinnacle of their career, but Haaland’s incessant improvement hints at a budding talent poised to rise to the very top of the game.
His audition for a Premier League transfer may come on Wednesday, and the Anfield stage is well and truly set for Salzburg’s starlet.