Erling Haaland a long-term project for Borussia Dortmund but can provide X-factor in Bundesliga title race
Norwegian teenager is the most high-profile transfer of the winter break and follows in the footsteps of many top marksmen
At Borussia Dortmund, they recognise striking quality with a forensic accuracy. Cast an eye across the contenders for this season’s Golden Shoe, the award for the best goalscorer in European league football, and it is heavily tinted in yellow-and-black, with a trio of former Dortmunders in the top six.
Ciro Immobile, now of Lazio, never quite lit up the Bundesliga in his time with Dortmund, but the Italian has 20 Serie A goals so far this season, and more than 100 since he joined Lazio, three and half years ago, from the German club.
Of Robert Lewandowski - 20 goals so far - no further praise needed. Dortmund unearthed him in Poland, and still regret his 2014 departure for Bayern Munich almost every time they encounter him as a rival. Then there’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - 14 Premier League goals this term for Arsenal - who was a Dortmund star until two years ago.
Add to that list those who have moved on at massive profits, from Ousmane Dembele, signed for €15 million (Dh61.4m) in the summer of 2016, sold to Barcelona for around €125m in the summer of 2017. Or Christian Pulisic, scouted in the United States as a 16-year-old, and worth €65m when Chelsea bought him 12 months ago. The next in line, probably Jadon Sancho, hired from Manchester City as a 17-year-old for less than €10m and now valued at up to 10 times that.
Onto this reliable launchpad lands Erling Haaland, coveted teenage finisher, and, so far, the winter's most eye-catching transfer. Since he turned 19 in July, Haaland has scored a remarkable 28 goals for RB Salzburg in 22 matches, eight of them in his six outings in the Champions League.
Haaland had whispers in his ear from a number of suitors, including Manchester United, but chose Dortmund partly because of the club’s record at advancing young careers, and providing a helpful platform for forwards.
Haaland has some hard acts to follow, not least the last centre-forward who joined Dortmund. Paco Alcacer was surplus at Barcelona, came in at the start of last season and hit 12 Bundesliga goals in his first 12 games.
“He is a rough diamond, still developing” said Michael Zorc, the Dortmund director of football, concerned that, with the Haaland hype, too high an expectation might stifle the Norwegian, who is understood to have signed a contract with a future buyout clause of around €50m.
Dortmund paid Salzburg €20m. Seasoned as they are in acting as a trampoline for young players aiming for a future in England or Spain, Dortmund have ensured that if the Haaland hype turns out to be justified, they will profit handsomely.
The investment is one thing. A big prize is also there to be seized . The six-foot-four teenager will this weekend join the most open title-race Germany has known for the best part of a decade, given the number of clubs in contention.
The champions of the last seven years, Bayern Munich, sit third in the table, four points behind leaders RB Leipzig, two behind Borussia Monchengladbach, and three ahead of Dortmund and Schalke.
“It is all very tight,” said Dortmund manager Lucien Favre. “Seven points [behind the leaders] is two wins and a draw, so anything is possible.” Dortmund hope for the first of those wins against Augsburg on Saturday, that Schalke and Monchengladbach take a point off one another on Friday.
Elsewhere among the first fixtures after the month-long winter recess, Dortmund will hope the Berlin clubs, Union and Hertha, can inflict damage on Leipzig and Bayern.
For Dortmund, runners-up for four of the past seven years, a frailer Bayern represents an obvious opportunity. But there is an acknowledgement that they have not capitalised as they might have, that for all their dexterity in the transfer market, a fruitful challenge for the title is overdue.
Last season, Favre’s first in charge, Dortmund were top of the table for more than half the campaign and allowed Bayern to overtake them after a humiliating 5-0 defeat in Munich in early April.
Haaland, a keen student of the game and the son of the former Norway international, Alfi-Inge Haaland, is aware of that history, that neither Aubameyang, Pulisic or Dembele decorated their individual progress at Dortmund with a league winners medal.
But he might yet be the X-factor in this race. “He has something special,” said Favre. “He’s big and strong but he will also come deep and combine well with others. And he’s scored so many goals at Salzburg I see now reason why he shouldn’t be successful in our Bundesliga.”
Updated: January 15, 2020 05:38 PM