Erling Haaland is the eloquent star who rarely speaks – on Tuesday, that changed

Estimated read time 8 min read

Only 48 hours earlier, after Sunday’s Manchester derby, Erling Haaland took the rare step of breezing through the Etihad Stadium’s interview area.

It is hard enough for a reporter to catch a glimpse of Haaland, much less grab him for a few post-match questions, and the sight of an accompanying bodyguard told the story: he might be walking through, but he would not be speaking.

But you have to ask.

“Erling, would you like to do an interview?”

“No thank you,” came the reply.

Somebody else asked further along the line of journalists. “Sorry, mate!” Haaland boomed this time, in a generic English accent that he will have used to amuse John Stones and Jack Grealish, his mates in the dressing room.

The dressing room, indeed, is well off limits for humble hacks and so a five-minute interview as the players make their way home is one of the best ways to get an insight into how they and their team work.

In the United States, the biggest stars are far more accessible even inside the sacred dressing-room environment. Some sports reporters in that country are fearful that the NFL and NBA will soon follow the Premier League’s much more guarded route, where in-house interviews are increasingly frequent and external requests often knocked back.

So it was a big surprise when Haaland sat down in front of the media for a press conference on Tuesday, the first time he has done so since he was unveiled as a new City signing in July 2022.

In fairness, he did spare five minutes for media — written, radio, and television — before the Champions League final last year, which was greeted with the same sense of shock among assembled media.

He had arrived at City with a reputation for not suffering foolish questions gladly, of keeping reporters on their toes, but on that occasion, he was warm, engaging and insightful, and as his coach, Pep Guardiola, had said earlier on Tuesday, he settled in so well because “he has impressed the most off the pitch with his lovely character”.

Haaland celebrates another City goal (Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

And that was in evidence to the world on Tuesday as he, in theory, looked ahead to City’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Copenhagen.

It can sometimes be a sore subject for players, and certainly fans, when they do these things and they are not asked a single question about the actual upcoming matches, but when it is somebody like Haaland in the chair, it surely makes sense to ask him about his lethal (and not-so-lethal) finishing, his tactical instructions, his life in Manchester and his future.

It was most likely a coincidence that the press auditorium at City was packed because rumours about Haaland’s presence only started spreading among regular journalists a couple of hours before the start time — but there were plenty of Danish reporters who ensured he was asked about Copenhagen anyway, not least because one of the world’s most sought-after strikers had a trial there during his teenage years.

“A couple of guys from the club wanted me then, but not everyone,” he said. “It didn’t happen — sad for them! Maybe good for me because I went to Molde and it was a good choice. I like the club, it’s a nice club, and I have a couple of friends who live in Copenhagen. They stand behind the goal at a lot of games. They enjoy it.”

He was then asked if he would have liked to join Copenhagen, to which he replied with a slightly incredulous: “Say again please?!”

When the reporter repeated himself, Haaland cleared up the confusion: “Sorry, I thought you were asking about now!”

Of course, there is little chance of that for City’s main attraction. There is little chance of 99.9 per cent of football clubs on planet Earth signing him any time soon. Paris Saint-Germain’s shifting ambitions and European football’s financial situation dictate that clubs in Germany, Italy and even Spain — for now — could not afford him. And in any case, he is in no rush to move.

“I’m really happy, especially with the people I’m surrounded by,” he said when asked about his future and the ever-present links to Real Madrid. “The manager, the directors, the board, they are a group of amazing people and I am really happy, I have to say.”

(Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

There are a few reasons Haaland does not speak too often — and the biggest one is that he does not particularly want to — but there is also an honesty that, unfortunately, cannot really exist alongside sports media as it is these days. Haaland himself noted this in his next breath.

“I say this now, it will probably be a massive headline, but tomorrow you never know what the future brings, but I am happy. You can write this, but you also have to write everything I said before. I am happy.”

In fairness, ‘tomorrow you never know’ is an age-old device used by footballers who have one eye on a move and Haaland’s desire to one day play for Real Madrid is well known. He could not have been clearer, though, that he is happy at City.

The club want to tie him down to a new contract and it is believed Haaland himself is open to that, although he was in no mood to hand out free headlines when asked about it.

“My focus is mainly now on the pitch, there’s a lot of games, two days ago there was a Manchester derby and now the Champions League, Sunday is Liverpool, so I think I should focus on that.”

There is certainly plenty to digest when he does discuss what happens on the pitch, especially inside his own head.

Having signed for City at the start of last season, at the age of 22, and then won the treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the first year, how, for example, does he stay motivated?

“You can think about it in two ways,” he said. “One is I came here and won it all. The other thing is I’m 23 years old and I won everything and I got a taste of it, how it is to win everything. How I work is that when I feel this, I want to win it again. Easy as that.”

More on Erling Haaland…

Haaland registered 52 goals on their way to that treble last season and this campaign, he is still out-scoring everybody in the Premier League, with 18 league goals and 28 in all competitions despite a 10-game absence as he recovered from a fracture in his foot.

He has, though, missed a lot of chances this season, the biggest of which came on Sunday with City trailing United 1-0 as half-time approached. It was the biggest missed chance in the world “ever” — his words.

“There’s a lot of things I can become better at, everything,” he said, having politely declined to discuss his instructions from Guardiola. “People say I’m good at scoring goals but I missed the biggest chance in the world ever two days ago. I can also become better at that.”

That was something he mentioned a few times.

“I can become a lot better at a lot of things and that’s why I train,” he said on another occasion.

“I missed a lot of chances. I will still keep on missing chances, I will still keep on scoring goals. I’ll probably miss a big chance in the future as well and people are going to criticise me, but what can I do then? Should I think of that? No, just focus on scoring more goals and help the team.”

How has he worked on that?

Haaland missing the ‘biggest chance in the world ever’ against United (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“It’s a mental thing, I don’t have any exercises, it’s something I’ve been working naturally on. It’s like anything in life — if you overthink something it’s not good, if there’s stress in your life it’s not good. My life is mainly about football, that’s my focus. I have one career so I try to do my best to have the best career possible. My focus is to become the best possible version of myself, so the main thing is the mental part.”

And has he always had this approach?

“It’s been a challenge. When I was young I would start crying if we lost and I missed a lot of chances. I’ve been working on it a lot.

“I demand a lot from myself and all my team-mates demand a lot from me and the manager and all the fans. It’s something to work on and in the end, everything is in here (tapping his head). It’s an easy answer but it’s also so difficult.”

Haaland is eloquent and affable enough to articulate his strengths, limitations and his relationship with the world around him — and he seemed to enjoy it enough to do it again sometime soon.

(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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