It’s late October in Manchester. Lads in parkas are necking Carling while seated inside musty, Thatcher-era boozers, the queues snaking out of Greggs are the length of those you’d see at the Vatican, stores are electric with New Order synth-pop. It’s Saturday. It’s party time. There’s disco fever. Somewhere north-east of the city centre, at roughly 3.21pm, Ederson, Manchester City’s hitman-looking goalkeeper forged in the fiery corners of São Paulo, discharges an 80-yard pass to Erling Haaland. 53,000 eyes on 22 players suddenly shift to one.
The Herculean Norwegian receives it, brushes off the oncoming Brighton defender as though he’s dusting away dandruff, and caresses the ball into the open net, like Tiger Woods putting from three yards out. The freedom of a Pollock, the precision of an Albers. A man from outer space. 9 on his back, knuckle-dusters on his boots. Built in a lab, hewn from vibranium.
The crowd of Blues explodes like a lit powder keg. It’s a landscape of Stone Island and awful Liam Gallagher-style mod cuts. Limbs everywhere. Dads in their threestripe tracksuits are hurling their kids about like inflatable beach balls; 70-year-old men are flipping the bird at travelling fans. It’s no panic, all disco. Erling at the disco. Sisqó at the disco. Disco at the disco.
“Life is short and a football career is short, so I’m going out there to enjoy as much as I can!” says Haaland, post-match. It’s been a stellar period for him, after all, having knocked down records in his first few months in the Premier League; proving to be the fatal blow in Pep Guardiola’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts philosophy of play; and, recently, penning an ambassadorial role with watchmaker Breitling, the type of deal that turns footballers into global, bankable icons and one that is suitable, given the striker’s manipulation of time: his split-second movements, G-force speed, his apparent ability to see things in slow motion.
“Nothing makes me happier than running out there like a crazy guy celebrating a goal,” he says.
In other words: no panic, all disco.
Breitling is a nice watch brand — and, actually, my grandpa, whom I’m named after, wore a Breitling, which is where I first came in contact with the brand. I always knew about it, and, for me, it’s about good vibes, having good energy around me.
I know that when Kevin De Bruyne has the ball, I have to be on the opposite side in the right place and at the right time for him to play the ball into my course with a sharp cross. You can train to anticipate what your teammates will do, and to know what to do when they have the ball in a certain spot of the pitch. It also comes a bit down to myself. I’m training it, but it is also an instinct that I’m born with.
I don’t do special mental training. In a situation like today, when I get the penalty, I focus on staying calm, to breathe, try not to think of what could happen if I miss. That’s the worst thing to do. So, for me, it is about trying to relax and to get the ball in the back of the net, as, in the end, that’s what I want to do.
I was born in 2000 and I don’t remember going to the games [in which his father, Alfie, played in, for Manchester City] with my mother. I only sometimes get flashbacks from that period, when seeing pictures of my brother, my sister and myself on our way to school when we still lived in England. He played with some good players – [Nicolas] Anelka, George Weah, huge players.
Of course, I feel pressure before every game. Normally, I sleep well, but I’m excited like everybody else. Today, I went out and played in front of 50,000 fans and I know [there are] millions of people watching from home. When the game starts, I try to enjoy it, and this is exactly what I did today.
It’s amazing to get to see the Norwegian flag out in the stands today. It’s a really nice feeling and it makes me proud. I hope that I can influence and make kids believe that you can be a young player from Bryne playing for Manchester City in the Premier League and become a top scorer. It was my dream since I was young – now it shows that it is actually possible.
Breitling x Erling Haaland