Saturday Apr 10, 2021
Viking, Android, Machine, Robot. In the past year, I have read countless articles and blogs using these adjectives and their synonyms to describe the hottest property in world football: Erling Braut Haaland.
This overwhelming obsession is not unfounded: 33 goals and 8 assists in only 32 appearances, with a shot conversion rate of 44%. The man scores a goal from every 2nd shot and has torn apart European and German giants alike.
Termed as a regen of Cristiano Ronaldo himself, Haaland is set to take over the world of football along with his own Messi-esque rival, Kylian Mbappe.
But what makes Haaland so good? How can a player of such a young age and with relatively less experience than his counterparts play so maturely and with such confidence? Given his consistency, the likes of Thierry Henry have declared with certainty that he is not yet another prodigy who bursts to the scene and then declines.
His performance against Sevilla in the first leg of this year’s Champions League Round of 16 is a perfect specimen to analyze and understand his style of play. All three of his abilities were fully utilized by Dortmund as they thrashed Sevilla 3-2.
First, Haaland’s strength and height enable him to become the perfect Target Man. Dortmund consistently fed long balls into the opposition box, or just outside it, where Haaland out-bodied the defenders and won the ball, feeding into the Dortmund wingers and forwards. Evidence of this is visible in several passages of play, as Marco Reus consistently partnered with Haaland to win the ball and position himself on the wing.
Haaland’s first goal was a classic example of his pace and strength: he runs through the Sevilla midfield, and even with 4-5 players hovering around him, feeds a pass into Jadon Sancho, who lays off a one-two to Haaland to score again. One remarkable aspect of this goal is that there was barely any space for him to barge into. The only place to roll the ball was a crowd of world-class defenders, yet Haaland proved too fast for them to catch on, and too strong to stumble and fall, and then it was all about the quality of the finish.
On the topic of finding space, it is well known that the one thing that can differentiate any attacker in modern football from above average to world-class is their ability to detect, run into and utilize space on the pitch.
On his second goal, Haaland was running parallel to Reus. He detected a large patch of grass to the right side of the opposition box. Making a precise run, he was fed by Reus for a resounding finish.
The goal in itself may not look as aesthetic to the eye as Dortmund’s first two goals, but it is the intelligence of a striker that puts him into easy scoring positions. From the perspective of an average football fan, one can only name two players who have found spaces in the past decade with such intelligence: Ronaldo and Sergio Aguero. If Haaland is the next name to be mentioned in this lineup of world-class strikers, then he is indeed a special player.
From long-range goals to driving deep into the pitch, Haaland offers a complete package that has rarely been seen in world football. He is bound to move out of Dortmund this year, but this transfer might be the most important one in his career because his next club might just determine whether he will actually be the next Ronaldo or whether his luck will run out like Eden Hazard or Neymar.
Even though many have termed FC Barcelona or Real Madrid as his best options, neither club is in a financial condition to afford him, and are both going through different levels of transitions.
Transition clubs do not always offer the best opportunity for such exceptional prospects, and Haaland will be risking a lot moving to Spain. His best bet might be the Premier League: either Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. All three clubs will fight for the UCL and the PL titles next season, and Haaland will find plenty of chances to make his name as a match-winner and put in a genuine bid for the Ballon d’Or.
Modern football is more about intelligence than physicality. Haaland has both, whether he can maintain them is a question only time can answer. For now, he is ahead of both Messi and Ronaldo in terms of individual performance, and when something like that happens, you know that football is going to change forever.