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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Haaland scores again, also off the field

He’s been depicted as a sword-wielding Viking back home in Norway, and Erling Braut Haaland showed himself to be fierce enough after scoring four times for his British football club Manchester City during the weekend. It marked a comeback of sorts for the Norwegian sports star, after a bit of a slump in recent months.

Football star Erling Braut Haaland, depicted here as a Viking by photographer David Yarrow on a banner near the Fine Art Gallery in Oslo, has been gazing down at passersby for months. Limited editions of Yarrow’s Haaland photographs have been for sale for as much as NOK 462,000 (USD 42,000). PHOTO:

Haaland’s fierceness came through when his club’s manager, Pep Guardiola, pulled him out of Saturay’s match, which Manchester City ended up winning by a score of 5-1 over Wolverhampton. Haaland and Guardiola clearly had a confrontation of their own on the sidelines, with Norwegian sports commentators linking Haaland’s anger to his lust for another goal.

“He wanted to score again,” speculated Petter Veland in state broadcaster NRK’s studio after the match. Jan Åge Fjørtoft, a former Norwegian football star who now works as a commentator for Viaplay, agreed: “This is the world’s horniest goal scorer who has four goals, who wants five, who wants six, who wants seven. He wants to stay on the field.” Guardiola later claimed that Haaland was simply frustrated over the referees who didn’t allow him more penalty kicks to which he’d felt he was entitled.

Scoring five goals or even more would have further elevated Haaland into an exclusive club of players who’ve achieved such status in a single Premier League  match. His four goals on Saturday, though, were more than enough for the 23-year-old Haaland to regain stature after a winter that included injury, an unsual lack of scoring, and criticism to which he’s not accustomed.

“Life at the top is ruthless,” wrote sports journalist Erlend Nesje in Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, last month after Haaland had been benched in a match against Aston Villa. Nesje thinks Haaland himself had to take the blame for the criticism that arose after he’d “only” scored one goal over the course of six matches, and other goals against weaker competition. Sky Sports football expert Roy Keane had even ridiculed Haaland after a poor performance against rival club Arsenal, and Haaland was also criticized for allegedly not being “involved” enough in a recent match against Real Madrid. His performance in matches for Norway’s national team (which failed to qualify for either the World Cup or the European Championships) has also disappointed fans back home.

Erling Braut Haaland has also faced criticism in Oslo, shown here being questioned by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) before a European Cup qualifier for Norway’s national team last year. It didn’t go well and Haaland avoided more media attention afterwards. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

By the middle of April, some commentators were even wondering whether Haaland had lost his touch, and the British media were especially tough. Haaland himself admitted he’d missed chances at goals, while Norwegian football expert Lars Tjærnås said Haaland was “less sharp” and questioned what kind of shape he was in.

Nesje claims Haaland has had “to pay the price” for having delivered such a high degree of performance and scoring during his debut season in 2022/23. The young man from Bryne in Jæren, south of Stavanger, broke all kinds of records and both fans, commentators and club owners expect that to continue. “That’s not easy,” according to Nesje, “when he himself has set nearly unbreakable records” and was the subject of massive media coverage. He was the subject of more than 16,000 news articles in Norway alone during the roughly nine months of his first Premier League season, when he also won several awards.

Haaland has also broken records on the financial side, becoming Norway’s first “football billionaire,” as measured in Norwegian kroner, at least. Norwegian business magazine Kapital estimated his personal fortune at NOK 1.8 billion last autumn and it’s swelled since. He’s now believed to be earning the equivalent of around NOK 600 million (USD 55 million) a year, the majority of it through his pay package from Manchester City and its controversial Qatar-based owners, and the rest from commercial sponsorship deals. Haaland, in return, is promoting everything from Breitling watches and Nike products to, most recently, Norwegian seafood and ice cream from a producer in Kristiansand.

All the newfound wealth has allowed Haaland to buy expensive cars, luxury real estate including a large new condo at Oslo’s popular Solli Plass and a villa in Marbella. His father Alfie, a former football pro in England himself, has been closely involved in his son’s career, runs his own investment firm and joined other wealthy Norwegian investors in officially moving to Switzerland, where Norway’s controversial tax on net worth doesn’t apply.

Haaland’s overall success, along with that of another Norwegian football star, Martin Ødegaard of Arsenal, is believed to have boosted the value of other Norwegian players. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that by the middle of last year, Norwegian  clubs had sold players abroad for the largest sums ever. Transfer fees amounted to more than NOK 450 million, and new talent is emerging all the time.

Norway can now also claim top athletes in a wide variety of sports, not just skiing and skating any longer. The country has a long history of enouraging youngsters into various sports from an early age, based on a culture of volunteerism and taxpayer support. Politicians now hope those who succeed will pass some of their expertise and wealth on to future generations, and continue to pay tax to Norway. Berglund



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