Debut at 15. First Eliteserien appearance at 16. 6 goals in 2 games against Brann & Valerenga at 17. Erling Braut Håland turns 18 in just over a week and if his current progress is anything to go by, his 18th year could quickly become one of his most important as the path to stardom opens up ahead of him. This is Håland, in profile.
It was in my second season of covering the OBOS Ligaen when Gaute Larsen lost control of the Bryne dressing room and was ultimately sacked in mid-May of 2016. Second team coach Alf Inge Berntsen was promoted to the role of interim boss and immediately decided to mix things up by naming a number of young Bryne academy graduates in his first team squad.
One name in particular that stood out was that of Håland's. A small bit of research confirmed my suspicions that he was indeed the son of former Leeds & Manchester City player Alfie Håland, who was famously injured by Manchester United's Roy Keane back in 2001.
At the time, Erling Braut was just 15 years old. He had made his debut the week prior, getting 30 minutes under his belt during a 1-0 loss to Ranheim. The performance was enough to convince new coach Berntsen that the youngster had the ability and mentality to be thrown in from the start in Bryne's next game, on the 16th May, vs. a poor KFUM Oslo side.
The match did not go to plan for young Håland. Bryne eventually lost the game 1-0, but Håland looked lost in a relatively unfamiliar role out wide on the left hand side. What was striking about Håland's presence on the pitch was his physique. At just 15 years old, he was already taller than most other players on the pitch and while not yet possessing the strength and pace that has come to define his game since, he clearly had the ability to be playing further up the field as a striker.
Håland had always played as a striker at youth level, so it may have come as a surprise to see him playing wide left on his full Bryne debut. The manager quickly remedied this and in Håland's next start 2 weeks later vs. Strommen, Håland played as a natural centre forward. Whilst this change of position did not yield a goal for Håland, his performance in this role as a striker was enough to convince the Bryne manager to continue playing him as a forward for the remainder of his time with the side.
Håland ended the season with Bryne playing 16 times, with no goals or assists. His development in this short space of time, however, was encouraging to see. My main worry with Håland when he first started playing with Bryne was that he was too tall and gangly for his age. I thought this may hinder or stall his progression, however, his transformation into a 'target man' style centre forward meant that in his age group, Håland was physically superior to most other players and able to therefore beat them to the ball easily.
Molde were the side who eventually decided to sign Håland, after interest from many Eliteserien and foreign clubs in the Winter of 2017. Playing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly a pull for the youngster and the route to first team football did not seem to be the toughest at Molde, who were short of top class attacking options at the time.
Håland struggled to make the Molde squad at first but by June 2017, he was a regular in the match day squad. His progress both in the Molde 2nd team and for the Norwegian International youth sides (U'17 & U'18 level) had captured his managers' attention. Incidentally, as of writing, from U'17 to U'19 level internationally, Håland has scored 13 goals in just 14 games. Having struggled initially to find the net for Bryne, at Molde he had a new found confidence in front of goal and it did not take the player too long to score his first for the side, in a win over Tromso in August.
If 2017 was Håland's break out season, then 2018 was the year when he really announced himself as one of the most promising U'18 talents in world football. Gone was the lanky left winger of 2016 and instead before us stood a powerful 17 year old striker, with the composure to match. Håland's turn of pace in behind defences has been a feature of his play in the 2018 season and this became even more evident in matches vs. Brann and Valerenga this July.
Molde travelled to Bergen to face table topping Brann with little idea of the amazing afternoon that awaited them. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had not played Håland in a league match for the past 3 weeks so his inclusion against Brann's best defence in the league was a surprise to many onlookers, until it became evident that Manchester United had sent a scout down to watch the match and track Håland's progress. How would the 17 year old fare against Brann's seasoned central defence pairing of Vito Wormgoor & Bismark Acosta, who had both impressed this season so far?
Simply put, the 17 year old tore Brann to shreds and within 21 minutes of the match kicking off he had registered 4 goals. 2 of which, he bolted in behind the Brann defence before calmly taking the ball round the goalkeeper and scoring. One was a penalty and the other a lovely flick around Brann's left back before a composed finish when one on one with the goalkeeper. Every goal showcased Håland's unique talent as a forward. His style of play is very similar to current Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku, in that both players have a similar frame yet are extremely mobile on the pitch. The way Håland shoots and finishes his chances is also very similar to the Belgian forward.
I have also mentioned previously that Håland has an element of Fernando Torres to his game. Torres in his prime was able to accelerate past defences before finishing well at full speed, and this is a trait that Håland has added to his game over the past year. His speed in behind defences is astonishing considering his size and height.
All of these factors contribute to the fact that Håland is now, clearly, one of the best strikers in the Eliteserien despite being just 17 years old. Two more goals and an assist vs. Valerenga a week after his Brann performance showed that consistency could now be entering his game. A worry for all Eliteserien defences.
Håland does of course have his weaknesses and areas to improve on. Whilst his first touch has improved dramatically since his Bryne days, there is still work to be done in that area to guarantee he gets the big chances he deserves in Eliteserien games. The main area that could be improved on, however, is his aerial ability. Given that Håland is 191cm tall, one would expect that his aerial prowess should be a key aspect of his game. This, however, is not the case and Håland does seem to struggle at times in picking up dangerous positions inside the box when a cross is coming in. Given the fact that the player is so good in behind defences and on the ground, improving his ability in the air could take his game to the next level. His physique and frame would make him one of the toughest forwards to play against in the league.
So, what next for Håland? A big move is clearly on the cards with both Manchester United and Juventus tracking the player. There have even been reports this week that Juventus had tabled a bid worth £5,000,000 for the player.
Håland will this week travel with the Norwegian U'19 side to compete at the U'19 European Championships. Many current world class players have impressed at these tournaments, and Håland will be keen to improve his growing reputation even further by hopefully helping his Norwegian side get through the group stage of the competition. A few goals would not hurt his value, either.
Håland turns 18 in just over a week. Given his progress so far, it is not out of the question that he could be playing regular football at a top European club by the age of 20. This is of course largely conjecture, but this next month of Håland's life will likely be a huge one. Will he perform at the U'19 Championships? Will he choose the right club to move to from Molde? Only one player can answer these questions and you wouldn't bet against him making all the right moves in the future.
Bryne 2 - 2015-2016 - 14 games, 18 goals
Bryne Senior - 2016 - 16 games, 0 goals
Molde 2 - 2017 - 4 games, 2 goals
Molde Senior - 2017 - Present - 34 games, 12 goals
Total: 68 games, 32 goals
Norway U'15 - 2015-2016 - 4 caps, 4 goals
Norway U'16 - 2016-2017 - 17 caps, 1 goals
Norway U'17 - 2017-2017 - 5 caps, 2 goals
Norway U'18 - 2017-2018 - 6 caps, 6 goals
Norway U'19 - 2018 - Present - 3 caps, 5 goals
Total: 33 caps, 18 goals
** Thanks to KroneBall for the xG charts and Shot Map. You can give them a follow here.
Football analyst / writer working in London & covering Scandinavian fotball for over 3 years