Just in case there was still anyone who hadn’t heard the name Erling Haaland, the 19-year-old scored a 23-minute hat-trick on his Borussia Dortmund debut in January 2020 to fully bring himself to the footballing world’s attention.
He then hit an absolute thunder bolt against PSG in the Champions League a month later to confirm his status as one of the most exciting prospects on the planet.
Alf Ingve Berntsen coached Haaland from 2006 to 2015 (aged five to 15) at Norwegian side Byrne. He is still in regular contact with the forward, and has witnessed him blossom from a highly competitive six-year-old to the teenage sensation linked with every major club in Europe.
Berntsen spoke exclusively to 90min.fr. about his earliest memories of the Dortmund striker, Haaland’s relationship with Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and where he sees his next career step.
To read the original interview in French click here.
Reflecting on his earliest memories of coaching the wonderkid, Berntsen told 90min: “Erling has not changed much. It doesn’t seem like it but he is a very funny and smiley guy.
“I have read people saying that he was very small back then. It’s not true. It seemed
like it because he was playing with players older than him. That is actually how he learned to
be smart on the box, by compensating for this physical deficit.
“Since very early, I knew he would be an international player. He trained really hard and scored a lot of goals. He has the same playing style now as when he was 12. As I said, everything is similar, though he has developed this amazing ability to adapt to any level.
“What I remember most is that he is a guy that absolutely hates to lose. ”
“What I remember most is that he is a guy that absolutely hates to lose. He would do everything to win in training sessions or in matches.
“Once, we finished second in a tournament in Denmark and we took a team picture and on the background you could see Erling with a grumpy face. That’s important because all the best athletes really hate to lose, and that is a big part of him.”
Haaland moved from Byrne to Norwegian giants Molde in 2017.
It was current Manchester United manager and Norwegian footballing icon Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who brought him to Molde, and Bernsten says the United boss will always be held in high esteem by Haaland because of the impact he had on his career.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer worked with Erling Haaland for two years at Molde, giving the striker his debut at the age of 16 back in 2017. pic.twitter.com/I1QnrG56mf
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) February 2, 2020
“Erling wanted to join a club where they are very professional and Molde is one the best club in Norway,” Bernsten added.
“Obviously the presence of Solskjaer impacted his choice, because he was the best man in Norway to give him some advices and show him how to finish.
“I think he will always regard him as an inspiring figure and someone who helped him reach the top level.”
Haaland moved from Molde to RB Salzburg in January 2019, and has since enjoyed a remarkable 18 months.
“I have always believed he would go to the top level but not at this speed.”
He scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut in September, and netted eight goals in the group stages. This prompted Borussia Dortmund to part with €20m to secure the Norwegian’s services.
To say Haaland hit the ground running would be an understatement.
He grabbed five goals in his first two appearances for the club – both of which were as a substitute.
Although he was aware of what a huge talent Haaland was, Berntsen admitted he did not predict such a rapid rise to stardom.
“I have always believed he would go to the top level but not at this speed,” Bernsten added. “Scoring a hat-trick for his first ever Champions League match, I could not see that coming five years ago.
“I thought he would have needed several years to adapt to the big stage.”
Despite only signing for Dortmund in January 2020, Haaland’s performances have already seen him linked with a move away to European football’s very elite.
Bernsten admitted he does not know where Haaland’s next career move will be, but insists he has what it takes to handle himself at any top side.
“Erling and his family know what is best,” Bernsten said. “All I can say is that he loves playing at Dortmund and even if he stays there all his career he will have great success.
“Liverpool! I am a Liverpool fan so of course I would love to see him play for them. ”
“I don’t know what are Real Madrid, Manchester United or any other big clubs strategies regarding Erling. But I know if I would have been in charge of the six to eight best clubs in the world, I would buy him immediately.
“He is very good already, he has shown great personality, he is scoring lot of goals no matter the level of the opponents, and he is just 19. He will continue to develop and in two years time he is going to be one of the best.”
And amid all the transfer speculation, where would Bernsten like to see Haaland end up?
“Liverpool! I am a Liverpool fan so of course I would love to see him play for them.
“I honestly believe he has the capacity to play for such club. In Norway, English football is by far the most popular and it is the dream of most young Norwegian footballers to play in the Premier League like Erling’s father [Alf Inge Haaland] did.”