The crowd rose to a standing ovation, chanting the name of their new hero; a mixture of disbelief and bashful joy washed over the face of the youngster after completing a hat-trick on his UEFA Champions League debut. No, not Wayne Rooney. Erling Braut Håland.
The Norwegian sensation announced himself on the big stage with a first-half hat-trick in RB Salzburg’s 6-2 thrashing of Genk in the UEFA Champions League in September 2019. Håland became the youngest player to score a treble on his debut in the competition since Rooney in 2004. It’s no surprise then, that the 19-year-old is being linked with a big-money move to Manchester United in January.
For those who witnessed Rooney’s perfect debut for United against Fenerbahçe in 2004, there were few doubts that the 18-year-old was destined for greatness. The £27m fee paid for the Everton forward was a record-breaking sum for a teenager at the time, but in hindsight, it was a bargain. Rooney would go on to become United’s and England’s greatest goalscorer in a trophy-laden 13 years.
Fifteen years later, the £86m asking price for this ‘generational talent’ wouldn’t come close to breaking the record fee PSG paid for a teenage Kylian Mbappé last summer, but is still a substantial sum.
With United squad lacking a true no.9 following Romelu Lukaku’s departure in the summer, and a host of elite European clubs reportedly queuing up to secure his signature, Ed Woodward should not hesitate to get the chequebook out.
Håland already has 27 goals in 19 matches this season – including five hat-tricks – and those who point to the weakness of the Austrian Bundesliga should note that, with eight strikes in five games, he is the Champions League’s second top scorer behind Robert Lewandowksi. The striker also raised eyebrows in the summer, scoring nine goals in a single game for Norway at the U20s World Cup.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who brought Håland to Molde in 2017 and had a “huge impact [on him] as a person and coach,” is building a young, hard-working squad that is hungry for success. The three-pronged attack of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James has started to show its potential, but none of them have their manager’s instinct for “easy goals”. Håland ticks all the boxes.
His eye for goal, combined with speed, power and work rate makes him a perfect fit for Solskjær‘s demanding counter-pressing system. One only needs to look at his eight goals in Europe to see that he can score with both feet, his head and from the spot. Composure is often lacking in United’s front line, but this young man has it in abundance.
It takes a special type of character to succeed at United, however. For every Ronaldo, Rooney and De Gea, there are plenty of Zahas, Bebés and Depays. Every big-money transfer has its risks and it’s not always easy to foresee how a player will cope until they arrive. Depay, for example, arrived from PSV with bundles of determination and dedication, but where he sought to emulate Cristiano physically, he lacked the strength mentally to cope at United.
Still only 19-years-old, Håland is a 6 ft 4 giant who carries himself with enough swagger and self-confidence to thrive under the Old Trafford lights. It should, therefore, be no surprise that he cites Scandinavia’s greatest export as his idol. “You can take a lot of things from Zlatan, especially in the mental area,” Håland told RedBull.com in an interview. “Someone has to take over from him,” he told TV2.
Like the former United striker, Håland is developing a maverick reputation within the game. From sleeping with his five hat-trick winning match balls, which he refers to as his “girlfriends,” to playing the Champions League anthem on repeat, Håland knows who to shape the narrative.
The Zlatan comparisons don’t end there, unfortunately. Håland has been seeking advice from super-agent Mino Raiola, which could prove problematic for United. The club have been at odds with the Italian after refusing to allow Paul Pogba to leave last summer – so what would that mean for a potential deal for the Norwegian?
Does he fancy it?
But why would Håland, a lifelong Leeds fan, who has the pick of Europe’s elite, want to come to a United team that cannot guarantee Champions League football, let alone challenging for the title?
Håland’s father Alf-Inge, former Leeds and Manchester City midfielder, played down suggestions that his connection to United’s rivals – and his own history with Roy Keane – would stop him moving to Old Trafford. “It would be nice,” he told TV2 back in September. “It’s important to distinguish between being a supporter and a job.”
Julian Nagelsmann’s high-flying RB Leipzig would seem like an obvious next step, though reports of the German club having first dibs were strongly denied by Salzburg’s sporting director Christian Freund. In truth, the Austrians are reluctant to sell to their German cousins as they seek to distance themselves from their feeder club image. Bayern are another German club monitoring him, though they are no rush to move with Robert Lewandowski enjoying the best year of his career.
Juventus, who have a good relationship with Raiola, are interested, having already tried to sign him from Molde, while Barcelona are planning for life without Luis Suarez. Real Madrid are always in the conversation when such a big talent emerges. And what of PSG, who may have a Neymar-sized hole to file next summer?
If the Premier League is his next destination, United reportedly face competition from Arsenal. Just days after Alf-Inge was reportedly spotted at Carrington, reports emerged of both he and Erling taking a visit to Arsenal’s Colney training ground. United, you’d think, would at least be ahead of the Gunners in the pecking order. But what happens if City decide Håland is the man to replace Sergio Agüero?
United, of course, have an ace up their sleeve in Solskjær. Håland owes a lot to the 46-year-old and a reunion is not out of the question. United are one of the few clubs who can afford to pay the reported asking fee and, despite the recent decline, are still an attractive option.
Håland is already following in Rooney and Zlatan’s footsteps, at Old Trafford he could become a modern great.
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