Ambitious Erling Haaland in a hurry to win trophies with Manchester City

Down to Erling Haaland’s left, his father Alfie stood among the large crowd that had been happy to swelter outside the Etihad Stadium for a view of Manchester City’s new centre-forward. Straight ahead he could see a couple of Norway flags and, dotted around, any number of placards optimistically requesting a signed shirt.

Public unveilings are a rarity in the Premier League but everybody could make capital from this one: City were able to parade the world’s most coveted striker and a beaming Haaland, more comfortable swaying to the assembly’s chants and songs than answering the MC’s questions in much depth, could absorb an enthusiastic welcome to his boyhood club.

Haaland can be a curious blend of the super-confident and awkwardly taciturn but, after giving the fans what they had come for, he spoke readily enough about the path that had led him here. There were recollections of a game in 2018, when he scored four times in 21 minutes for Molde against Brann, and the relationships he formed with Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham at Borussia Dortmund. Then there was the bottom line. “Sometimes I look at someone posing with a trophy and think: ‘I would love to be you right now,’” he said.

In fairness Haaland has already won four trophies, three of them in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg. He was referring to the biggest prizes around but the state of envy will probably not last long. Even if City must diversify their approach in order to accommodate a 6ft 5in reference point up front, his arrival is highly unlikely to make them worse domestically; the bigger hope is he will push them over the line at Champions League level. “My favourite competition” was how he termed it, and a lesson from his new teammates two seasons ago showed him the standard he must quickly meet.

“You see something on TV and then when you meet it’s completely different,” he said of City’s 4-2 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the 2020-21 quarter-finals. “I didn’t touch the ball for 25 minutes and it’s like ‘[Ilkay] Gündogan, please stop playing tiki-taka!’ It’s a different level, how they play, and that’s what I want to be part of.”

From Monday, when City report for their first day of pre-season, Haaland will be immersed in it. In his address to the supporters on the stadium’s external concourse, he made it clear the preparatory phase cannot pass quickly enough: that the start of competitive action will be the real time to, as he put it repeatedly throughout the afternoon, have fun.

“Like I have been doing my whole career: try to enjoy every single minute, every moment, not to think too much,” he said when asked how he might adjust to the level of expectancy around City. “Overthinking is not a good thing for any human being.” Somebody might want to put the latter quote in front of his manager, but Haaland showed no concerns about meeting Pep Guardiola’s exacting demands. “I watched City ever since [Guardiola] took over in 2016 so I know exactly how they play and I think I know a lot about everything [they do], so that is the most important thing,” he said.

The 21-year-old could not have appeared more at home. City are his fifth club and the journey here from his hometown side Bryne, for whom he was still playing five-and-a-half years ago, has been without serious hindrance. Every step has been incremental, well thought-out by a close-knit entourage, carefully planned; each time he has eventually proved too good for the club he joined. That is much less likely to happen at City: he turns 22 later this month and this has the feel of a long-term destination, a peak reached ahead of even the most optimistic childhood schedule.

“In some ways,” he said, “but also not when you see how I’ve been performing. It was a big step going to Molde, a big step going to Salzburg, Dortmund and now City, but it has been going good.” More than 150 career goals make that an understatement.

As Haaland soaked up the adulation on a dazzling, sky-blue afternoon it was not hard to see why this might feel right for everyone. “In the end I just had the feeling in my stomach: the way they play, everything,” he said. “I had the feeling for City.” It already appears to be mutual.