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Erling Braut Haaland - Solskjaer's protege a Man Utd star in the making

20:30 BST 30/05/2019
Erling Braut Haaland NxGn GFX
The 18-year-old shone under the current Red Devils boss during his time at Molde and has already been linked with a move to Old Trafford

When Manchester United fans think of the name Haaland, two incidents come to mind. The first came in 1997 when Roy Keane suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury following a challenge from then-Leeds United midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland that kept him out of the game for the best part of a year.

Fast-forward four years and the pair would clash again, this time with Haaland – now representing Manchester City - on the receiving end of one of the most infamous high challenges in Premier League history. Keane unsurprisingly saw red and was handed a three-match ban, only for him to be retrospectively suspended for a further five matches after admitting in his autobiography that the tackle was planned as revenge for events at Elland Road the previous decade.

Haaland never truly recovered and was forced to retire prematurely at the age of 30 just over two years later.

That, however, may not be the last time a member of the Haaland family steps onto the Old Trafford turf, and this one may be greeted far more fondly should the Red Devils eventually get their hands on him after failing to do so over the last 12 months.

Erling Braut Haaland, son of Alf-Inge, has been making waves since arriving on the scene as a 16-year-old at Molde having signed from Norwegian second division side Bryne in February 2017.

Unlike his father, who played mainly as either a centre-back or defensive midfielder, Erling is very much a centre-forward whose eye is only for goal. He scored on his Molde debut in a cup match against Volda and needed just six minutes to mark his first league appearance off the bench with the winning goal against Sarpsborg less than a month before turning 17.

In Norway he was able to hone his skills away from the limelight, only to recapture headlines a year later in July 2018 when he scored four goals in the opening 21 minutes against previously unbeaten league leaders Brann to secure a 4-0 victory. His manager that day and throughout his time at Molde? One Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, no less.

“He can become a top striker, for sure. He reminds me of the type of striker [Romelu] Lukaku is,” Solskjaer told NRK in the aftermath of that Brann match, and it is easy to see why Haaland would elicit comparisons to a striker such as Lukaku.

Comfortable running with the ball from deep or waiting on the shoulder of the last defender, at 6’3” and with rapid pace he is difficult to stop once he is in full flow. His rocket of a left foot and precision from the penalty spot only adds to the perception that he may be the full package when it comes to the modern-day No.9.

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On the day of that four-goal salvo against Brann, scouts from Manchester United were in attendance, and it has since been confirmed by officials from Molde that there was real interest from the Red Devils in acquiring the teenage forward, though it is not known whether they were one of the clubs to see a bid rejected for Haaland during last summer’s transfer window.

Haaland did eventually earn his move, signing a five-year contract with Red Bull Salzburg in August before joining up with the Austrian champions in January of this year. He left Molde having scored 20 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions and earlier this month marked his first league start for Salzburg with the opening goal against LASK Linz.

Salzburg’s qualification for the Champions League group stages next season should allow Haaland – who in March was named in Goal’s NxGn list of the top 50 teenagers on the planet -  to get his first taste of top level European football, and should he again shine then United could be tempted to take another look. Whether Solskjaer sticks around long enough to have any say remains very much up in the air, but he is certainly as well placed as anyone to offer a glowing reference for his compatriot should one be required.

For now, Haaland’s concentration is on the Under-20 World Cup and spearheading Norway’s hopes at the tournament in Poland. A surprise victory over reigning champions England saw them book qualification for the competition, and though hopes are not exceedingly high, with a talent such as Haaland’s in their ranks then the Scandinavian side have as much a chance as anyone.

The young striker proved that in their final group stage match against Honduras, as he netted a record nine times in that 12-0 victory over the Central American nation. 

Impress on that stage and it is likely to be more than just United picking up the phone to Salzburg in the next 12 months regarding the 18-year-old’s availability. Keeping Solskjaer in charge may well be enough to swing things their way.