Speculation around Erling Haaland’s future is intensifying with Barcelona now said to be front-runners for his signature but how has the Borussia Dortmund striker been performing this season? And how could Barcelona afford him?
Haaland has been linked with a host of top European clubs in recent years, including Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, but reports in Spain say his agent, Mino Raiola, has informed Barcelona president Joan Laporta of the 21-year-old’s desire to make the Catalan giants his next club.
Dortmund maintain he is going nowhere in January but even he does stay beyond the end of the month, Raiola has already said publicly there is a “big chance” he will move in the summer, when a £64m release clause in his contract reportedly comes into effect.
With 76 goals in 74 appearances for Dortmund since his move from Red Bull Salzburg in December 2019, it’s little wonder Haaland is in demand. Here, we look at how he’s fared this season – and examine how cash-strapped Barcelona could sign him.
Goals flowing despite interruptions
Haaland has had to contend with injuries this season. A muscular problem caused him to miss three games at the end of September and he was ruled out for a longer period between October and November due to a hip flexor issue.
That hip injury was expected to keep him sidelined for December, too, but instead he returned to action ahead of schedule.
Typically, he marked his first appearance in two months with a goal only seven minutes after his introduction from the bench, helping Borussia Dortmund beat Wolfsburg 3-1 on November 27.
That strike put him into double figures in the Bundesliga this season and there have been five more in five games since, taking his overall goal tally to 19 in just 15 appearances for Dortmund so far.
Haaland is Dortmund’s top scorer as a result, and despite missing a large chunk of the campaign through injury, only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowksi (19) and Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick (16) have scored more goals in the Bundesliga this season.
The Norway striker may well overtake that pair if he remains injury-free and continues scoring with the same frequency. Indeed, the 21-year-old is averaging a goal every 69 minutes in the Bundesliga, meaning his strike rate is the best it has been since his arrival at Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg two seasons ago.
Disappointingly for Dortmund, they lag behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich despite Haaland’s efforts. Marco Rose’s side sit nine points behind their rivals in second place. They would be nine points worse off, though, without Haaland’s goals.
They missed him badly during the Champions League group stage. Haaland was only able to start their first two games, meaning he was unavailable for crucial meetings with Ajax and Sporting Lisbon as Dortmund slumped to a third-placed finish in Group C, causing them to drop into the Europa League.
Haaland must now wait for another crack at the Champions League – be that at Dortmund or somewhere else.
Stats trending upwards
The records continue to tumble for Haaland, who, at 21 years and six days old, became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 50 goals in the competition in November. He also reached the landmark in the fewest appearances – only 50.
What’s most impressive, though, is that Haaland, a frightening talent ever since he burst onto the scene at Red Bull Salzburg as a teenager, just keeps getting better.
“He’s much improved compared to last season,” said Dortmund boss Rose earlier this month. “He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”
The improved movement and decision-making can be seen in his increased goal output but it’s the positioning Rose mentioned that best explains how he has reached another level this season.
Put simply, Haaland is spending more time in areas of the pitch in which he can hurt opponents. He is of course capable of inflicting damage from just about anywhere thanks to his extraordinary speed and strength, but it is in the opposition penalty box that he is most deadly.
This season, one of the most notable changes in his game is that he is getting considerably more touches there. His average of 8.7 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes is up from 7.1 per 90 minutes last year and 5.6 per 90 minutes in 2019/20.
His shot volume has gone in the same direction. This season in the Bundesliga, he is averaging 4.5 efforts on goal per 90 minutes, up from 3.5 per 90 minutes last season. His average of 2.2 shots on target per 90 minutes also represents a significant increase.
Haaland is even providing more ammunition for his team-mates. As well as scoring more himself, the stats show he is creating more chances than at any point in his Dortmund career. Significantly, his numbers for expected assists show the chances are of a higher quality too.
All the numbers point to a player finding new ways to improve – and that should be a frightening prospect for those clubs who end up missing out on his signature.
How could Barcelona afford him?
Barcelona’s interest in Haaland was confirmed to Sky Sports News this week by Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero, who cited reports from Spain claiming Raiola and Laporta discussed the transfer during a meeting at the Golden Boy gala in Torino, Italy, on December 13.
“In that moment, there was, not an agreement, but Raiola showed Laporta the decision of Haaland to play in FC Barcelona, if FC Barcelona and Laporte has their economic situation resolved and have enough money to pay the player,” Montero said.
Barcelona, however, are over 1.3 billion euros in debt and lost close to 500 million euros last year alone, casting serious doubt on how they could possibly finance the deal – be it this month or in the summer.
They are said to have taken out a substantial loan from Goldman Sachs, allowing them to buy Ferran Torres from Manchester City earlier this month. But staying within the parameters of Financial Fair Play remains problematic.
“It’s very difficult,” added Montero. “They registered Dani Alves after Kun Aguero left but now they’ve got problems to register Ferran Torres because of Financial Fair Play. So, right now, with Erling Haaland, it seems almost impossible.
“Some players must leave. They are thinking about (Philippe) Coutinho [who has subsequently joined Aston Villa on loan], about (Samuel) Umtiti. And others such as Ousmane Dembele could even do a kind of contract renovation which does not count towards this round of Financial Fair Play.
“It’s a difficult economical exercise to understand but if players like Coutinho and Umtiti leave and Dembele renovates, as Xavi has asked publicly, maybe they could afford this, but it’s extremely difficult at the moment with the economical difficulties Barcelona has.”
What’s been said about Haaland this season?
Borussia Dortmund manager Marco Rose: “Almost every day he is confronted with some outrageous speculation, and the way Erling handles it as a young player is extraordinary, I think. All of us who work with him are used to it by now.
“He’s much improved compared to last season. He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”
Dortmund midfielder Emre Can: “Everybody knows about Erl’s quality. He helps us as a team a lot. I think the team has more confidence when he’s on the pitch.”
Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham: “I stand here every week and tell you how great he is. The only thing more I can say is that the player you see isn’t a fluke. He doesn’t just turn up after a week on the sun bed, and go out and play. He works his socks off every day to be a better striker. And he’s an even better guy than he is a striker.”
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski: “He’s a great player. He has great potential, but he’s still very young.
“In the future, he has the chance to become the best forward in the world, for sure.
“It’s great to have him in the Bundesliga, to have a young player here to compare [myself] to. I see his face; he has the desire to score goals.
“He is the player who can be the best. It’s not always easy when things are going well. But he has scored a lot of goals already and he’s very young.”
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk: “Haaland is a special striker, he’s strong, he’s quick. He’s got all the attributes to make a defender’s life very, very difficult.
“The first time was when he was at Salzburg he scored at Anfield. He was very quick, direct. A bit like how Jamie Vardy plays, but Haaland is a bit stronger than Vardy.”