One of Bryne FK’s most experienced youth coaches recalls Erling Haaland’s early years with the club’s junior sides...
It is hard to go anywhere in the Norwegian town of Bryne without seeing some connection with Erling Haaland.
With a population of fewer than 13,000, Bryne sits slightly inland in the south west of the country and like most places in Norway, is surrounded by natural beauty with green hills and snow-capped mountains never too far away and lakes and fjords abundant.
Go to any park or junior football club and you’ll see kids with ‘Haaland’ on their back, whether that is a shirt of Norway, Borussia Dortmund or Bryne FK – soon, there will be legions of them in Manchester City shirts.
He is an icon, here and Bryne is the place he grew up as a child, when his father Alfie was forced to retire with a knee injury after spells with Nottingham Forest, Leeds, and City.
Erling was not much more than a toddler when his family returned to Norway, and it wasn’t long before the five year-old was going along to twice-weekly training sessions at Bryne FK – the club where his dad trained for almost a decade from the age of six or seven.
Bryne Stadion is similar in size to Accrington Stanley’s home ground, with a slightly smaller capacity of 4,000, but today the club’s training pitches, and indoor hall are literally a field of dreams for local youngsters.
Erling Haaland is a hero in his hometown and has never forgotten his roots, supporting his former club in a number of different ways throughout his career to date.
Of course, it is not just the youngsters of Bryne who want to follow in his footsteps – it’s the same all over Norway where he has become a superstar over the last couple of years, thanks to his incredible scoring feats for club and country.
Espen Undheim knows only too well the influence Erling has on Bryne FK youngsters in particular, having been a coach at the club for more than two decades.
He remembers Erling’s first few sessions at Bryne FK and would coach him on and off through the ranks until he made the first team aged only 15 years and nine months old.
“It's true I have been the youth coach at Bryne FK since 2000,” says Undheim, with more than a hint of pride.
“I first knew of Erling when he used to come to our after-school sessions, twice a week and I worked with him from the age of eight until he was 12 and then I was one of three coaches who trained him aged 13 to 14.
“Obviously, we knew his father was Alf Inge, and that he had been a great player for Bryne FK, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and City, but there was no pressure or expectation on his shoulders at such a young age.
"What was soon clear to me was that he loved scoring goals – for some boys it was like, ‘yeah, ok, that’s good’ when they scored, but for Erling it was everything and he would run around with his arms in the air. It gave him such pleasure.
“He scored a lot of goals at that time, and he could finish even at that young age, so it was obvious that he was a natural and putting the ball in the net came very easy to him.
“But as much as scoring goal made him happy, if he missed a chance or didn’t score in a game, he’d be really angry with himself.
“Alfie was always there, but he was in the background and never pushy. He knew Erling was learning his trade and enjoying himself and that’s what mattered and most.
“He started playing for our junior teams at an early age and as he got older, he was fairly tall, but very skinny, so he didn’t have that physical presence yet.
“But he was clever with his running and timing, and he soon started to stand out.
“We started to play him in the age group above at 13 and he was very comfortable and continued scoring goals and that love of scoring was just as strong as when he’d been eight years-old.
“By the time he was 15, he was promoted to our second team, where he scored a lot of goals and did really well again.
“That earned him a place in the first team, and he made his debut for Bryne FK in the second division – similar to the Championship in England.
"He still didn’t have the physicality he needed, and he was up against more experienced players each week and though he played 16 times and didn’t score, he did well enough, and you could see he was only going to get bigger and stronger.
“Then Molde came in for him and I wondered how he would do because he was young and alone – Molde is nearly 14 hours away by car – but he soon adapted and settled down.
“He had to wait for his chance, but when it came, he started scoring goals and after two seasons, he moved to Red Bull Salzburg.
“Again, it meant moving away and adapting to new surroundings and he didn’t play the first few months, but he worked hard, understood what he needed to do and once he got his chance, he took it, just as he had at Bryne FK and Molde.
“He was much stronger by now and after just one season in Austria, Borussia Dortmund came in, and once again, he had to be patient and wait for his chance to shine.
"Of course, when he did get his chance, he came off the bench and scored a hat-trick in just 23 minutes - plus many more goals there.
“Erling has always taken a little adjustment time wherever he has been, but his levels have always gone up accordingly on each occasion.
“When he was put into the Norway senior team aged 18, people thought it was too soon, but he did what he always did – took time to understand his role and what was expected, and then he was quickly scoring goals for his country.”
And what does Undheim believe will happen next to one of his club’s greatest youth team graduates?
“He will do very well with Manchester City, I am sure,” he smiled.
"He will need time to understand how City play and what his role in the team is, and his new team-mates will need to learn his style and strengths, but he will do really well I have no doubts.
“He still has many connections with Bryne FK and many friends he grew up with are still here – some are at universities in Norway and Europe, but he never forgets that this is hometown and the club he followed as a boy – and still does today.
“His family still live in Bryne and in the summer, you might see him training by running through the forest trails or around the town.
“I have watched his career with great interest and great pride over the years.
“In fact, after he has played for the national team and it is interviewed, he still has his very distinct Bryne dialect.
“That’s how we know that no matter what, he is still a local Bryne boy.
Photographs supplied by Bryne FK, plus Espen Undheim main image courtesy of Marie von Krogh, VG.