Already this season, he has nine goals in six matches in German football (averaging one every 38.9 minutes), including a hat-trick. Haaland also made Champions League history by becoming the first player to score six goals in his first three games, and he went on to bag a brace on his Champions League bow for Dortmund against Paris Saint-Germain, while his five league goals across 59 minutes were enough for him to be named the Bundesliga Player of the Month for January.
Haaland’s rise has been extraordinary and one person who got an early glimpse and the chance to mould the striker from the age of six to 16 was Alf Ingve Berntsen, widely considered to be the Norwegian’s mentor. He coached Haaland at his first club, Bryne FK; the same side at which his father Alf Inge Haaland grew up and played for before moving to Nottingham Forest in the early 1990s.
Located in western Norway and playing in the top division in 2016, it was at Bryne where Dortmund’s record breaker made his debut at just 15 years of age. We spoke exclusively to Berntsen, lifting the lid on the youngster who is tearing apart defences and smashing records to pieces.
Inside Futbol (IF): Did you expect four years ago that Haaland would make so much progress to the point of being considered as one of the hottest strikers in Europe?
Alf Ingve Berntsen (AB): Four years ago I was expecting to see him as an international player, but not in such a short space of time. Actually, eight years ago, when he was eleven or twelve, I thought he would be an international player. He actually scored at all levels from day one. I’ve always known he wanted to get this far, but I cannot believe he is achieving that already.
IF: What was he like when he took his first football steps in Bryne?
AB: I coached him for ten years. From day one at Bryne he smiled a lot, he trained a lot and he scored a lot. He has always been like this. He scored so many goals, always with a smile on his face.
IF: Is it true that he put on significant muscle mass when he moved to Molde?
AB: When he moved from Bryne to Molde he was 16 years old. He was at one of the best teams in Norway and then he gained many kilos by eating and having extra sessions in the gym and strength training.
IF: Do you think Borussia Dortmund was the perfect choice for Haaland?
AB: I think that they suit him very well because he has very good players around him who will make him even a better player. Dortmund is the perfect club for Haaland.
IF: What kind of person is he? How would you describe his character?
AB: He has a very nice sense of humor, he is funny, he laughs, but at the same time, he is very serious about football. He always was very ambitious and fearless. He has worked extremely hard. From the early days, he was very good at training, he knew when he should sleep, he took care of his nutrition and he was very dedicated when he trained.
IF: Who do you think is the bigger talent? Haaland or Martin Odegaard?
AB: I think both of them are big talents. They are different types of players. I mean Erling is more like a forward and Odegaard is more like a Number 10, he would give the passes to Erling. Both are very good.
IF: What is the secret of his early success?
AB: He is a talented boy with a special gift and had good guidance both from mum and dad. Additionally, he has trained a lot, both with the team and outside the team, practicing.
IF: And what makes him a special player?
AB: His special thing as a striker, I think, is that he has many possibilities to score because he is very clever. He trained with 40 other people in his age group. The others were born in 1999 and Erling was born in 2000. Erling was not small, but he played with older guys. He had to be smart in the box to create chances when he was younger and now he has this unique physique. He has smartness in the box and he is very strong and very fast. He can also play on the counter-attack when you have built up from the back. He has great positioning, is very fast and very strong. He has very different skills, that is not normal.
IF: What was your advice to him?
AB: My advice was to keep on doing what he is doing because when he was ten, eleven, I believed that he would become very tough and very strong.
IF: What is the importance of his parents in relation to his football development?
AB: Both his father and mother, and all his family, have been very important to him because they are very good people. His father has experience in what you expect when you are very good, things like media attention, and he helped him to be at the right clubs like Molde, Red Bull Salzburg and Dortmund. They are very good choices. He never put pressure on him and he has only good advice, without pressure.
IF: Did you speak with him after his debut with Borussia Dortmund?
AB: I didn’t speak to him right after his debut with Dortmund. When I have contact with Erling it is happening between big matches and not on the game day. When he scored three goals I am sure there were thousands of people that would contact him, so I prefer to contact him on other occasions.
IF: Do you believe he can reach the top of world football?
AB: I really do not know. I think he is quite good already. So if he stays healthy and he does not get injured I think he will continue to improve because is just 19. So I think we will see a better and better player. The sky is the limit. I believe he is not at his top level yet. He is a very, very exciting player.