Erling Haaland’s best time of all comes in the competition Man City signed him to win

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Erling Haaland can bring a certain directness, on and off the pitch. He can scythe a way through defences and, after his most devastating display, cut through the official rhetoric from Manchester City with similar speed. He had just struck five times against RB Leipzig, becoming only the third player to score five goals in a Champions League game, when he came out and said City bought him to win the competition.

It wasn’t the party line, or something Pep Guardiola had ever admitted.

“You say it yourself and it’s true: they won the Premier League without me, they won every trophy without me,” Haaland rationalised. “So I’m here to try to do a thing that the club has never done before and I’ll do my best.” He nevertheless drew a direct link between his own presence and City’s fate in Europe. Haaland burdened himself with expectation. “Of course I feel pressure,” he said. “I would lie if I said I didn’t.”

Thus far, he has dealt with it admirably. Haaland’s awkward start lasted precisely one game, a Community Shield when he had just 16 touches, hit the bar when presented with what almost amounted to an open goal and generated some entertainingly inaccurate predictions about how he would fare.

He then scored two goals on his Premier League debut, a record 36 in his the competition and 52 in all; not since Dixie Dean 95 years earlier had anyone got more for a top-flight English team.

Plenty of players have taken a season to settle into Pep Guardiola’s style of play: Jack Grealish was one such, though Haaland soon undercut a new teammate with his swift impact. “I told Jack sometimes players need maybe a year or something to come into the new league and new team and everything and sometimes players come directly in and perform,” Haaland recalled. “So, yeah, that was one game, [in the] Community Shield I missed a couple of big chances. It can happen, it will happen again. What can you do? Nothing. We have to focus on the next thing, the next game and that’s what I did. I scored two goals in the next game, so it was still not a bad start.”

Which is an understatement. Haaland had two hat-tricks by the end of August, a third in October’s Manchester derby and 21 goals in his first 14 games.

For City, the switch from false nine to genuine centre-forward has been a smooth success, despite the occasional suggestion the Norwegian had made the team worse. “I don’t read anything because I think my brain would be a bit crazy if I was reading everything everyone is writing,” Haaland said.


It is an approach that has stood him in good stead. It is also an argument he has won, whatever the outcome of the Champions League final. Haaland’s season has already brought a host of records, the double of Premier League and FA Cup. He was the English league’s top scorer and almost certainly will finish as the Champions League’s leading marksman, too.

There is something iconic about the half-century milestone, something no top-flight player in England had reached since World War II. “I didn’t expect to score this many goals but I’ve been missing a lot of chances, so I could have scored more,” noted Haaland. “That’s the truth.” Another fact is that he has slowed down. He goes to Istanbul on his most barren spell of the season. “You can think of it as one goal in seven games or 52 goals in 52 games and eight assists, I think,” countered Haaland.

And, unlike most players, he gets more prolific in the Champions League. He scored 62 goals in 67 games in the Bundesliga. He has 36 in 35 in the Premier League. But in the toughest European competition, his record stands at 35 in just 29. His first hat-trick in the competition came as a teenager for RB Salzburg. His love of it dates back still further.

“I have been dreaming and thinking of it my whole life. It has been my dream as long as I can remember, so a long time,” he said. Indeed, his first memories of the Champions League are of a club from Manchester winning the trophy: just not City. “I think around 2008. I think it was Chelsea v United,” he said. “When I saw the celebrations I wanted to do that as well. I am getting closer and closer.”

But his preparations have stretched beyond shooting practice or studying Internazionale’s defenders. His choice of music in the car has involved the Champions League theme tune, as footage of his time in Austria shows. “Yes, there is a video of me doing that,” Haaland added. “So it’s true.” No wonder City signed him to target the Champions League then.