The next big goal-scoring machine in soccer is here. After signing for Borussia Dortmund in the winter transfer window, 19 year-old Norwegian wunderkind Erling Braut Håland has lit the Bundesliga on fire. He has scored five goals in just two substitute appearances spanning 59 minutes of play, including a hat trick on his debut.
Håland arrived from Red Bull Salzburg for €20 million on January 1. Juventus and Manchester United were also rumored to have been interested, but Dortmund won the race for his signature. He has hit the ground running so far. Where did he come from, and what can we expect from him going forward?
Håland started his career in his native Norway, signing for hometown club Bryne FK at the age of 15 in 2016. It was not long until he moved up to the Norwegian first division with Molde FK in the 2017 winter window. By the time he had moved to Austrian giants Red Bull Salzburg as a 17 year old in January 2018, he had already appeared in 50 first team matches in Norway, scoring 20 goals.
The Red Bull organization as a whole is known for excellence in identifying and developing young talent. Current Liverpool stars Sadio Mané, Naby Keita, and new signing Takumi Minamino all spent time with Salzburg. It was a good place for Håland to go to advance his skills.
Håland spent his first half season in Salzburg largely on the bench. In striker Moanes Dabour and Minamino, the team had way too much firepower for the Austrian Bundesliga already. They were able to take their time with Håland. He only played in 5 matches across all competitions as he got his feet wet, scoring one goal.
Then he went to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the summer of 2019. There, he famously scored 9 goals in one match against an Honduras, setting the record for goals in a U-20 World Cup game. Based on this game alone, he won the Golden Boot for the tournament. This game was all over soccer highlights shows, and was the first time he popped up on many people’s radars.
Honduras was a weak team. Their defending and goalkeeping left a lot to be desired. Håland’s Norwegian squad did not manage to make it out of the group stage, and he did not score in any other games. Still, his goals show an aggressive striker with good instincts for getting in the right spots and a rocket shot.
After the World Cup, he returned to Salzburg for the 2019–20 season. This is where his star really began to take off. He scored an incredible 28 goals in 22 appearances across all competitions before leaving for Dortmund. He picked on hapless Austrian Bundesliga defenders for 16 goals in the league, at an insane rate of 1.46 goals per 90 minutes.
Håland raised his game with a step up in competition as well, scoring 8 goals on 5.3 expected goals (xG) in the Champions League group stage against Liverpool, Napoli, and Genk. He scored at a rate of 1.93 goals per 90 minutes. His total ranks second in the competition, behind only Robert Lewandowski.
At 6'4" and 192 pounds, Håland is physically imposing. As you would expect, he is good in the air, and wins a high percentage of aerial duels. But he is best at getting behind the defense. He has good speed, and constantly threatens center backs by making runs into space behind them.
Håland is a very intelligent player. He has good timing on his runs, and a knack for finding space within the box. Plus, he takes almost entirely good shots. They almost all come within the box, often within the six-yard box. Thus, he scores very well in his xG per shot. When his shot selection is combined with his excellent finishing, the result is a highly productive striker.
But he is far from a one-trick pony. Håland is a great dribbler and is willing to drop deep to help his team in possession. Per StatsBomb data, he completed nearly 2.5 dribbles per game at Salzburg, a figure that puts him in the upper echelon of strikers. He is also a great passer who can find his teammates in valuable positions. At Salzburg, he produced 5 assists this season between the Champions League and Austrian Bundesliga. These assists came with corresponding high xG assisted numbers.
A possible weakness is that Håland is largely left-footed. Most of his goals have come from his left foot. It will help him to develop his right foot. It would make him be harder to defend. But with his other skills, he should be successful anyway.
Håland is a strong striker who should produce at a high level in Germany. He has a lot of positive skills and has produced for most of his career. But there are some points against him.
Most of his dominance has come in relatively weak leagues. In Austria, Salzburg were an offensive powerhouse even without him. They scored a ton of goals in 2018–19 with Håland not getting much playing time. Håland’s Champions League and Bundesliga numbers this season are impressive, but they represent a small sample size. It is possible that this is all a mirage.
But given his variety of skills, the level of his production at every stop in his career, and his physical traits, it is likely that Håland will be successful at Dortmund. He is also very young, and has time to work on his weaknesses. His current astronomical numbers will come back to Earth, but he should be an elite striker for Dortmund.
With Håland and Jadon Sancho, Dortmund have a very young and exciting attack. At present, they are in third in the Bundesliga. Leaders RB Leipzig are four points ahead, and powers Bayern Munich are three. Håland could be the boost Dortmund need to make a title push this season.
Since the Champions League did away with cup-ties last year, he will also be helpful to Dortmund in their push for European glory. They play PSG in the Round of 16, and Håland should give them some firepower to help them against the Parisians.
Håland’s contract with Dortmund contains a release clause of only €60 million in his contract. It may only be a matter of time before an even bigger club comes calling if he keeps playing like this. Dortmund should enjoy him while they have him. He is soccer’s next big thing.