The day Haaland scored four for Solskjaer… in front of a Man Utd scout!
The teenager has taken the world by storm this season but was on the radar of the Red Devils while playing for their current manager in Norway
As Erling Haaland scored a hat-trick on his Borussia Dortmund debut in January, Manchester United fans were left wondering what could have been had the club managed to sign the teenager.
It was inevitable the forward was going to have an instant impact in Germany, but his three goals in a 23-minute spell left a sour taste for many who had hoped to have seen the Norway international at Old Trafford.
United were interested and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a good relationship with the Haaland family after managing the 19-year-old during his time at Molde, and it was not just the treble winner at United who was aware of Haaland’s ability.
Back in 2018, scout Tommy Moller Nielsen was in the stands as a then-17-year-old Haaland scored four goals in 20 minutes for Molde against Brann. It was a complete performance from the teenager who had shown his versatility and wide-ranging skill with each goal.
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He demonstrated perfect technique, good strength, impressiveness in one-on-one situations and composure from the penalty spot. No doubt Nielsen would have been impressed with what he had witnessed, and Solskjaer reserved special praise for his match-winner in the dressing room afterwards.
“I remember that the players knew that scouts from Manchester would be there,” Fredrik Brustad, who replaced Haaland in the 61st minute of the 4-0 win against Brann back in 2018, told Goal.
“His performance was incredible. After the third goal, we only looked at each other in disbelief on the bench. It was the perfect game for him, the defence was high and gave him a lot of space to bump into. It was just fun to watch him from the bench.
“After the game, all eyes were on Erling. But he didn’t mind at all. Rather, pressure makes him even better. He was the player with the most potential I have ever played with. The coach (Solskjaer) made a short speech after the game praising Haaland’s performance. We were all aware that we had just had a very special game. Haaland himself held back after the game, he’s not a guy for big speeches.”
And even the opposition players had been told of United’s interest in the teenager and warned of his talent. Goalkeeper Samuel Sahin-Radlinger, who played for Brann that day, recalled the game in disbelief.
“Back then I noticed that he was a really, really good striker,” he told Goal. “If you get four goals after such a short time, it’s not a normal game. I’ve never experienced anything like that. We were all shocked. Of course you have in mind, the boy is 17 years old and smashes four goals. That of course hurts.
“He seemed extremely arrogant to me. But I’ve also heard from team-mates that he’s a really cool, pleasant guy. I think that’s his confidence. It’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. I think he would love to be like (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic.”
Solskjaer found himself being linked to the original as well as the supposed ‘new’ Ibrahimovic back in January with the club on the hunt for a striker after allowing top goalscorer Romelu Lukaku to leave for Inter the previous summer without bringing in a replacement.
United had Haaland on their radar for a while, and after a remarkable start to the 2019-20 season for Red Bull Salzburg, where he scored 28 goals and grabbed seven assists in just 22 appearances in all competitions, the teenager found himself at the centre of a transfer tug-o-war with a number of clubs interested in him.
Solskjaer had been to watch his former protege as had United scouts on more than one occasion. Just before Christmas the Norwegian was forced to deny the teenager was on board a flight to Manchester to sign for United.
Everyone knows how the transfer saga played out. Haaland was not on a plane to Manchester and just nine days after those reports were refuted he signed for Dortmund.
Haaland has since done numerous interviews explaining why he chose a move to the Bundesliga over a potential transfer elsewhere, which boiled down to him suggesting it was because he had a “better feeling” about the Bundesliga club.
The view from United over the failed transfer was that they backed out due to a clause that the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, and his father Alf-Inge Haaland, who used to play for Manchester City, wanted including in the contract.
The club decided against bowing down to those demands, which Raiola has since come out and denied, and pulled out of a deal. Solskjaer has since hinted they were right to do so.
“It is important that we use common sense,” Solskjaer said back in January. “There are other things too when you sign players, that you have to keep in control.
“You can’t give agents the control by giving buyout clauses and stuff. That has been touted around, that is for me, we have to be in control.”
Morally Solskjaer feels United did the right thing by passing on the deal but in practice the teenager could have boosted his side even further. Before all football was suspended due to the Covid-19 virus the club were on a good run of form, unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions and the acquisition of Odion Ighalo in the January window has already proved to be prudent.
But, as good as the Nigerian has been, he is not on the same level as Haaland. He has already scored 12 and assisted two since his move from Salzburg in the winter transfer window in just in 11 appearances.
Solskjaer and everyone involved in that Brann vs Molde game back in July 2018 knew he was a talent, and with the forward going from strength to strength it looks more like United missed a trick two years ago when Haaland was on the cusp of breaking through.