Looked at one way, Erling Haaland is in decline. He scored three goals in his first Borussia Dortmund game and two in his second, in just 59 cumulative minutes as a substitute. But on Saturday, it took him an eternal 77 minutes to get two more goals in Dortmund’s 5-0 win against Union Berlin, whilst also earning a penalty.
Looked at another way — the correct one — the legend of Erling Haaland grows and grows. By the end of the game, he’d risen to 10th in scoring in the German Bundesliga. He’d played just 136 minutes. Every other player he’s tied with has made at least 15 appearances.
At the club for less than a month, Haaland is Dortmund’s third-leading scorer, now that Paco Alcacer has moved on to Villarreal. His seven goals in first three games in Germany’s storied first division are a record.
Haaland arrived on Jan. 3 from Red Bull Salzburg, where he’d been coached by American manager Jesse Marsch. But it was clear by the winter transfer window that Salzburg wouldn’t be able to hold on to its star. Sister club RB Leipzig and Manchester United also made serious entreaties, but Haaland picked Dortmund.
“They just went direct and said, ‘We need you up front, we like your playing style and we want to have you here,’” Haaland told Goal.com. “I liked how they spoke to me then, and that’s what triggered me. I just felt that me and Dortmund was a good match.”
Dortmund paid a transfer fee for five players this season. Haaland was the cheapest, thanks to his low $22 million buyout clause with RB Salzburg. And he has immediately vaulted Dortmund back into the wide-open title race after a mid-December skid.
Oh, and Haaland – the son of Alf Inge Haaland, a long-time Premier League and Norwegian national team defender – doesn’t turn 20 until July.
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But the myth precedes the move to Germany. In the first half of the season, Haaland had scored 16 goals in 14 games in the Austrian league for Salzburg. He’d also scored in his first five UEFA Champions League games – becoming the first teenager to do so. He wound up with eight European goals in just six matches, bagging 28 in 22 games in all competitions for Salzburg in half a season.
Then there was that game at the under-20 World Cup back in May, when Haaland scored nine (9!) times for Norway in a single game against Honduras, the first time the soccer world at large took note of him.
Already, he’s the protagonist in the kind of scarcely-believable stories that get told about generational stars. Apparently, Norway’s massive state pension fund, inflated by the nation’s vast oil reserves, has bought shares in Dortmund, a publicly traded company. That means with every goal, Norway is benefiting his home nation financially as its stock creeps up.
At 6-foot-4, Haaland isn’t merely big and strong, he’s very fast as well. His scoring is instinctive and impossibly composed, scoring from all manner of angles.
Saturday, he pounced on a low cross from Julian Brandt for his side’s second goal after English national teamer Jadon Sancho, another 19-year-old sensation, had already put Dortmund ahead.
In the 66th minute, Haaland was sent through by Sancho. He rounded goalkeeper Gakal Gikiewicz, who clipped him and incurred a penalty. Marco Reus converted.
Then, after Axel Witsel had given a sauntering Dortmund its fourth, Haaland quickly adjusted his body to latch onto a loose ball in the box and smash it past Gikiewicz, who didn’t look great on the play.
And then Haaland came right off for the 17-year-old American Gio Reyna, his stature raised further still as the hottest player in soccer.
The question now is one of sustainability. Plainly, the scoring pace can’t be maintained. But how will Haaland’s career shake out over the long term?
Other teenaged prodigies typically fizzled out by their late 20s. Indeed, that’s what made Lionel Messi and Cristiano so remarkable, so unprecedented – in spite of all that first-team football as teenagers, they never slowed down or stopped producing.
But how far Haaland goes – what his ceiling is, exactly – will depend mostly on how his body holds up. The talent overflows. He clearly has a robust build for the job, but others did too. And long-term success is what will make him truly legendary.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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