''Eeeerling!,'' cries stadium announcer Norbert Dickel into his microphone. ''Haaaaaland!,'' comes the shout back from 80,000 fans in the stands. This particular call-and-response has already become something of a routine at Signal Iduna Park. This Friday, the whole of Dortmund will be hoping for another opportunity to cry out the name of their new favourite player.
Erling Haaland is the name on everyone’s lips around Borsigplatz. And there are no signs of that changing any time soon. A hat-trick on his debut in Augsburg, two against Cologne in front of his new home crowd - and all this without even starting the matches in question. The 19-year-old then followed this incredible start with a brace against Union Berlin and another goal in the 3-2 defeat away to Bremen in the cup. Finding the back of the net certainly seems to come naturally to the big Norwegian. Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Bayer Leverkusen was the only match in which Haaland has failed to get on the scoresheet for the Black & Yellows - in large part due to the heroic efforts of Lukas Hradecky in the Leverkusen goal.
''The famous, perhaps even mythical, atmosphere of the Dortmund stadium has been given a new lease of life through the arrival of the 19-year-old,'' wrote the German football magazine kicker after the home match against Union Berlin. ''Haaland does so much more than just score - he gets back to defend, he seems to always play at breakneck speed and energises his teammates - and indeed the whole stadium - through his body language. These qualities, alongside his footballing talent and sense of youthful exuberance, mean he was always destined to be a fan favourite.'' Haaland needed just eight shots to score his first seven goals for the club, goals which have seen him write his way into the Bundesliga record books: the Norwegian is the only player in history to find the net seven times in his first three appearances in the league.
But let’s take a step back. To early January. It’s a chilly winter’s morning in Dortmund. The mercury is struggling to climb beyond seven degrees. The sky is overcast and grey. Erling Haaland seems unperturbed as he steps out for his first day of work at Borussia Dortmund - wearing just a t-shirt and shorts. He has a look up at the skies, then a glance down at his attire before shrugging nonchalantly in such a way as to suggest the weather isn’t all that bad and his clothing is in fact entirely appropriate. He breaks into laughter and then explains: ''I’m Norwegian!'' He’s soon joined by his father, Alf-Inge. The former pro inspects his blonde-haired son, who now towers over him by a good few centimetres, before gesturing in such a way as to suggest that the weather is in fact that bad and his clothing is perhaps somewhat inappropriate. Then he laughs the laugh of a proud father. ''Black & Yellow suits you,'' he says.
Lots of clubs across Europe had their sights set on Haaland in the January transfer window. At the end of the day, after intensive consultations with his inner-circle - led by his father, the former professional footballer Alf-Inge Haaland - it was decided that BVB was the best option. The Christmas period was certainly a busy one for the Haaland family, and with the turn of the year rapidly approaching, BVB sporting director Michael Zorc was no doubt delighted when Erling got in touch to share the good news. ''I wanted clarity on my future,'' says the 19-year-old, ''I wanted to know where I’d be playing my football for the next few years.'' Now the answer is clear: Dortmund. The place where so many of the world’s hottest footballing talents have made the leap up to superstar level. The place where people live and breathe football, where the beautiful game is played with passion and often infused with a hearty dose of drama - in arguably the world’s greatest stadium no less. Haaland had heard a lot about his new home - he’d seen pictures and he’s watched games on TV - and now he’s certainly got a feel for the place. He can tell that the fans already love him. ''Eeeerling!'' bellows stadium announcer Norbert Dickel into the microphone after each of his goals. ''Haaaland!'' comes the shout back from 80,000 adoring voices.
But Haaland is making sure not to get ahead of himself. After all, he’s still just a young talent. Perhaps BVB’s reputation for nurturing young players influenced his decision to join? ''Of course,'' says Haaland: ''That’s definitely something I had in mind.'' He cites a few examples: Pulisic, Dembelé, Sancho, Hakimi - the list is constantly growing. Sporting director Michael Zorc clearly feels the club’s choice to focus on youth has been vindicated: ''One of the best cases we have when negotiating with young players is our current team sheet. We have 18-year-old and 20-year-olds regularly named in the starting XI - and not just in the early rounds of the cup; in the big matches in the Bundesliga and the Champions League too.'' Haaland, as a young prospect, describes how this offer sounds from the other side of the negotiating table: ''They are honest with the players here. They give them playing time and help them improve. And that’s what I want to do: improve.''
''I always used to imagine what it would feel like''
Haaland says that certain people tried to advise him to "make an even bigger step, to move to a really big club". He smiles as he says that, while he respected their opinions, he didn't see it that way at all. "Dortmund," he says in a mixture of German and English, "are a massive club." Few other clubs can claim to be such a fixture in the Champions League - the competition that all players dream of playing in. Haaland confesses that he likes to listen to the competition's iconic anthem at full volume while driving in his car.
BVB, the massive club, the one that Haaland couldn't help but fall in love with as a young football fan. The style of play, the players, the atmosphere, even the Black & Yellow colour combination - "I liked everything,'' says the Norwegian. For one as young as Erling Haaland, born in July 2000, that means he was "cheering on the Black & Yellows in the Champions League final in 2013" - as he always does when BVB come up against Bayern.
The good prospects as a young player, his sympathies for the club - was the decision to move to Dortmund an easy one in the end? The interviewer can barely finish the question before Haaland pours forth with a response: ''BVB always had good strikers. I used to look up to them when I was younger, and I always used to imagine what it would feel like to lead the line wearing that Black & Yellow jersey,'' said the Norwegian in an interview with the club’s member magazine ''Borussia,'' going on to add: ''As I started to get better and better, I one day asked my father: 'Dortmund and me - that would be a good match right?' When I heard BVB were interested, I knew I had the chance to make this dream a reality. I had a great feeling about the move. The timing was perfect.''
But first of all, Erling Haaland needed to remain patient. During his first few days at the club, he was forced to watch on from the sidelines due to a knee injury left over from his time in Salzburg. The coaches and the medical staff gradually integrated him into team training, his every move closely followed by both fans and members of the press - in particular those who had travelled to the Costa del Sol all the way from his native Norway.
''They're honest with the players. They don't make any false promises.''
The hype surrounding Haaland has largely been fuelled by breathtaking goalscoring exploits, such as netting eight goals in the group stage of this year's Champions League with his old club Salzburg. But there's also the small matter of the interest he received from many of the biggest clubs in Europe. Besides his father, Alf-Inge, the transfer negotiations were led by the renowned agent Mino Raiola. Once the contract with BVB was finalised, Raiola, sat down for an interview with the British broadsheet newspaper The Telegraph in which he stated that: "Erling has decided on Borussia Dortmund, and I'm happy that he's now at the place he wanted to be and that's best for his career at this moment in time.''
The 19-year-old already has eight goals to his name in 2020: seven in the league, one in the cup. ''Erling is doing a brilliant job,'' says sporting director Michael Zorc. ''His task is to score goals, and you can see that he tries to make this happen with every movement he takes.'' Haaland may come across as shy in interviews, but he’s happy to let his actions out on the pitch do the talking for him. "I feel I'm in good hands here and I've had no problems integrating," he said after the game against Berlin: "We have a good relationship out on the pitch, you could see that today. That's the most important thing." An impression which Julian Brandt clearly agrees with: "Having Erling in the side helps us so much."
This Friday, Eintracht Frankfurt come to town, and the new signing will have his next opportunity to impress in front of the Black & Yellow faithful at Signal Iduna Park. Norbert Dickel is all set for another extended cry of ''Eeeeerling…'' The fans are ready to shout back the surname of their new golden boy, whose number 17 jersey is already the top-selling item in the club's fan shop. (br/ds)