The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 11:45 am
The most instructive aspect about Erling Haaland’s five goals against RB Leipzig was not that he netted them in a mere 57 minutes, or how easy he made each of those strikes look, or how unearthly composed he was when essaying the shots, or how impassively he celebrated his hat-trick goal, but that he took just eight shots that night. All of them were on target, and five found the back of the net. He touched the ball just 30 times — but one in six ended up as a goal.Therein lies the magic of the latest goal-machine in the football-scape. It is not just that he scores goals, but scores them at a bewildering frequency. There are no excesses or wastage. All he needs is just half an unseen route, a glimpse or a glimmer. This season, he has belted in 42 goals in 37 games, averaging a goal every 72 minutes he has been on the field, 28 of them coming in the Premier League.Even more mind-twistingly, one in every third shot on goal ends up in the back of the net. If he were to continue in this golden vein, Haland could potentially end up with 62 goals in the season. His goals often come in a torrent — already he has racked up six hat-tricks, four of which came in the Premier League, that is one more than Cristiano Ronaldo could muster in seven seasons and as many as Mohamed Salah could manage in six years with Liverpool. He needed only 19 league games for his four hat-tricks. The next fastest is Ruud van Nistelrooy, who took 65 matches.It’s still early. Only time will tell whether he can sustain the maddening tempo; battle-hardened defenders would bury him in a blizzard of tackles and tussles; pragmatic managers could cage him in tactical prisons; injuries could shackle his leap into immortality; lean patches would invariably wink in; age and repetitiveness might reduce his hunger for goals. But as it remains, he keeps scoring goals, from anywhere and everywhere, with any part of his body (even with his Samurai bun if he whims so), with minimum fuss, at any time of the game, in any part of the globe.Calling him a goalscorer is reductionist like all he knows is how to score goals. He is much more, a product of many rare gifts, of intelligence and touch, of movement and timing, of vision and variety, and timing. He is big, fast and strong, can slither in as much as barge through attacks; he can tap in from point-blank range with finesse and also blast in from a distance. He can be as acrobatic as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as nimble as the original Ronaldo, as powerful as the new one, as precise as Robert Lewandowski and as quick as Kylian Mbappe. Everything seems to be pre-programmed, from the weight he needs to impart on the ball, the direction, the amount of power, the degree of dip, the decimal of bend. All he needs is the ball on his feet. He knows its destiny and destination.Goalscorer extraordinaireBut Haaland is a man of his own, his gifts need not be valued in the light of others. However, comparisons with legends are useful in portraying the wholesome picture. Of all the aforementioned names, he resembles Lewandowski the most, in function, nature and movements. Like the Pole, he is a pure, thoroughbred striker, a vanishingly rare ilk over the last decade, with a sense of anticipation that borders on premonition, blessed with that vision to anticipate where he should be.There is a paradox about him, about how he debunks the notions of height, speed and built. Tall players can’t be quick; yet Haaland is; robust frames can’t be flexible, yet he is; power can’t marry finesse, at his feet, it could. His biggest gift, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, is his mind. “One of the biggest, or best, attributes I discovered in knowing him, working together, is that he never loses his belief,” he explained. “He can miss one chance, second (chance) – he does not get depressed. He is not sad. He is not, ‘oh, I miss it’. Always thinking positively, in the next one. He knows that he will have the chance, he will be there. And this is an incredible attribute as a football player, an athlete,” the Catalan elaborated.In a sense, Haaland has reduced football to its most fundamental pursuit, to score goals. That’s how the finest make it appear, liberating the game of its complicated structures and confusing patterns. There needn’t be magnifying lenses to understand his genius, the plain and simple goal-scoring genius. He is as he is — a high-spec, Terminator-style No. 9. Some have already begun to call him the Nordic Terminator, a moniker that sits aptly with his goal-scoring prowess. Nicknames have been flowing as swiftly as goals. He has been showered with other nicknames too, the predictable ones like Striking Viking and Daemon. His teammate Jack Grealish has minted a new one — Ball Magnet.To think that he is just 22 and the havoc he could wreak on defenders and the laurels he could accumulate in years to come sets the premise for a fascinating career. A career that could feature several other nights as the one that unfolded against Leipzig.