The Norwegian wonderkid who could be about to introduce himself to English football

Salzburg's red-hot teenage striker Erling Braut Haaland will have the chance to measure himself against Liverpool's dazzling collection of attackers on Wednesday, if he is fit to play.

The Norwegian wonderkid who could be about to introduce himself to English football
Erling Braut Haaland. Photo: AFP

The Austrian club's sporting director Christoph Freund said on Sunday that the 19-year-old Norwegian has been ill and may not feature against the European champions at Anfield but there will be many beyond the confines of Merseyside who pray that he is wrong.

After an explosive start to Haaland's Champions League career, fans want to see more of the goalscorer.

“He's going to become one of the best strikers in the world,” said Salzburg team-mate Maximilian Wöber. “He's just phenomenal.”

Haaland set the first round of Champions League games alight when he hit a first-half hat-trick as Salzburg pulverised Genk 6-2 to top Group E ahead of Napoli, who beat Liverpool on the same night.

At 19 years and 58 days, Haaland became the third youngest man to score a hat-trick in the Champions League since its revamp in 1992.

Imposing Haaland, who stands 1.94m tall, has been in scintillating form since moving from Molde to Salzburg in January, scorin 17 times in 10

In May in the under-20 World Cup, he hammered nine goals in one match as Norway humiliated Honduras 12-0.

The young gun is just as confident in his abilities as his teammates are.

Asked to name his favourite player by Norwegian TV he answered, with a smile: “I have to say 'it's me'”, before adding a slight caveat.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the biggest one. He is Scandinavian, so someone has to take over from him,” he said.

Haaland has said he is a fan of his father Alf-Inge Haaland's former club Leeds — the city where he was born in July 2000 — and wants to bring glory to a team currently loitering in England's second tier Championship.

“The dream is to win the Premier League with Leeds,” he told a Norwegian newspaper in 2017.

Juventus and Manchester City have been mentioned as potential suitors but one intriguing link is with Manchester United, a club with complex history with the Haaland family.

Haaland's dad played for Nottingham Forest, Leeds and then Manchester City, where he was the victim in 2001 of an infamous incident where Manchester United's Roy Keane deliberately stamped on his right knee.

“I really don't like (Manchester) United and I can't stand its players,” Alfe-Inge has said.

Yet Manchester United has a Norwegian manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

In the 2017 interview, Erling Braut explained that he had just chosen to join Molde from Bryne, rather than accepting offers from abroad, because he wanted to work with its coach at the time — Solskjær.

“He had a very big impact on my life,” said Haaland said recently of his time at Molde.

“He is one of the reasons why I'm here today. He is a good person and a good coach.”

Solskjær has returned the admiration.

“It's great watching him and I think everyone in Norway is excited by his development,” he said following the hat-trick against Genk.

The youngster is planning ahead. He changed his surname to the anglicised “Haaland” from the traditional Norwegian spelling (Håland), making it easier for international media to write down.

A big performance at Anfield, so long as he is healthy and ready to play, will have them reaching for the superlatives.

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Norway’s football clubs to vote on Qatar World Cup boycott

Will Norwegian football star Erling Braut Haaland stay home or play on what fans have dubbed a "cemetery?" This Sunday, a meeting of Norway's football community will decide whether to boycott next year's World Cup in Qatar.

Norway's football clubs to vote on Qatar World Cup boycott
Norway's forward Erling Haaland (L) and teammates wear jerseys reading "Fair play for migrant workers" before the international friendly football match between Norway and Greece at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga in preperation for the UEFA European Championships, on June 6, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Under pressure from grassroots activists the Norwegian Football Federation(NFF) has decided to hold an extraordinary congress to decide on whether to pass up football’s showpiece event all together.

The games on the pitches in the Middle Eastern emirate will “unfortunately be like playing on a cemetery,” according to Ole Kristian Sandvik, spokesman of the Norwegian Supporters Alliance (NSA), invoking a commonly used metaphor among opponents of Norway’s participation.

Norway, which has not qualified for a major international competition since Euro 2000, is currently fourth in its World Cup qualifying group behind Turkey, the Netherlands and Montenegro. 

So while qualification seems an uphill task, the result of the vote could have an impact on whether Norway and its young star Haaland — one of the rising stars of world football — continue to play qualifying matches. 

The movement calling for a boycott began north of the Arctic Circle when football club Tromso IL spoke out against turning a blind eye to alleged human rights abuses at the end of February.

“We can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football,” the first division club proclaimed.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, with campaigners accusing employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare.

“There is no doubt that this World Cup should never have been awarded to Qatar,” Tom Hogli, a former professional footballer turned public relations officer for Tromso IL, told AFP.

“The conditions there are abominable and many have lost their lives,” he added.

In March, a spokesman for the Qatari organisers put the number of deaths on the construction sites at “three” since 2014, with another 35 having died away from their workplaces, challenging the heavy toll reported by some rights groups.

Push from fans
The Tromso call began gathering pace in Norway, where clubs operate under a democratic structure, and under pressure from fans, many teams now say “nei” (no).

According to Sandvik, the fans feel that the deaths on the World Cup sites would have been avoided “if they had not had to build hotels, railways and stadiums”.

Nearly half of Norwegians, 49 percent, now say they are in favour of a boycott, while only 29 percent are against it, according to a poll published by newspaper VG on Wednesday.

The Nordic country’s national squad has already protested conditions in Qatar, but stopped short of calling for a boycott.

Before recent Norway games, Borussia Dortmund superstar Haaland, captain Martin Odegaard and the rest of the team have worn t-shirts with slogans like “Human rights on and off the pitch.”

Other countries, like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have also followed suit.

FIFA, on the other hand, argue that awarding the hosting of the World Cup in Qatar has opened the door to social progress.

“We know there is still work to be done, but we need to recognise the significant progress achieved in a very short time,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in May.

‘Few successes’ 
While the executive committee of the NFF have said they regret Qatar being awarded the World Cup, they oppose a boycott.

President Terje Svendsen said he thought it was “not the right tool to improve the human rights situation or the working conditions in Qatar,” when speaking at the federation’s ordinary annual congress in March.

According to the NFF, a boycott could end up costing Norway 205 million Norwegian kroner ($24 million, 20 million euros) in fines and compensation as well as lost revenue.

Feeling the pressure from grassroots campaigns, the NFF referred the matter to an extraordinary congress which on Sunday will bring together the eight members of its executive committee, representatives of 18 districts and of hundreds of professional and amateur clubs.

The discussions will be revolve around the findings of an expert committee which, with the exception of two members representing fans, has also come out against a boycott.

“For a boycott to succeed, you need a critical mass behind it, an opposition that calls for it in the country, the UN to put pressure on the
authorities, the business world, the trade unions and civil society to put pressure on it in the long term,” committee chairman Sven Mollekleiv said in a debate hosted by broadcaster TV2.

“Historically, there are few successes,” he said.

Rather than a boycott, the committee recommended 26 measures to consolidate and further the gains made in Qatar but also to ensure that FIFA doesn’t become complicit in so called “sportswashing” — the polishing of a country’s public image through a major sporting event.

Some initial supporters of a boycott, like Tromso’s Hogli, have since sided with these conclusions, although calls for a complete boycott remain.