A rare audience with Erling Haaland before the Champions League final

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Erling Haaland never does the mixed zone – the post-match interview area where players can talk as much or as little as they like.

Indeed, after Manchester City’s home matches, he rarely passes by, let alone stops by to chat.

City have played 30 games at the Etihad Stadium this season and only two occasions stand out.

The first time around, after they beat Nottingham Forest 6-0 last August on the eve of transfer deadline day and scored a hat-trick in the first half, reporters were already crowding around Bernardo Silva, who was explaining why the move had not been made. . Haaland circled behind him while the rest were drawn to us by Bernardo – as if Pep Guardiola had engineered it on the training ground.

Then it was months before the 22-year-old walked into mixed territory again, this time also with Bernardo. The little Portuguese winger grabbed his much bigger team mate and tried to push him towards us. “Hi guys! Who wants to talk to Erling?” he joked.

lo and behold He was A joke, of course, because when City are playing on the road and there’s no choice but to walk through the mixed zone on the way back to the team bus, and Haaland is just a short distance away, he doesn’t even turn his head to acknowledge our advantage. This is what happened this second time.

Footballers can do what they like with their time, not least because many of them have already given post-game TV interviews anyway, asking the same sorts of questions the written press would if they’d been stuck in the mixed zone. They have families to see, lives to live, and in many cases it seems that the less they say, the easier that life will be.

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Nor does Haaland say much at all. Indeed, he came to England last summer with a reputation of being very dismissive if he said anything; There are YouTube compilations of his most awkward media interactions. Sometimes he seems happy while giving a two word answer, sometimes he seems annoyed, but either way, he’s not too condescending.

Those angry interviews seemed to be a thing of the past since he joined City and he was a little more forthcoming. He certainly doesn’t sound rude and often seems to be enjoying himself: in August he spoke candidly to Alan Shearer for the athleteAnd, during a live chat with Sky Sports last month, when City displayed the Premier League trophy, he broke off cheering and celebrating with the fans.

why not? He had just won his first league title in England. It would be much better to remember to flatter the supporters than to do another interview, sure?

(Photo: Katherine Ivel/Getty Images)

But it does mean that, from the media’s point of view, he’s an eclectic breed: a huge name that everyone wants to hear but doesn’t say much. He is like Lionel Messi in that sense.

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So there were mixed feelings when it was suggested that Haaland take part in City’s official media day ahead of this weekend’s Champions League final.

Finally, a chance to interrogate the goal machine!

Definitely grateful. But what can we ask of him to get a good response? Will he actually do that? Difficulty multipliers have also been added. A five-minute time limit and a scene of 30 journalists yelling at each other, peppers the subject with random questions.

The day went by without a hitch: Kyle Walker, Ederson, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones turned up for five-minute performances and all in good time, especially given the number of other tasks they had to do.

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Then there was a bit of a wait.

Then the wait got a little longer.

Was Haaland in the building? It didn’t get to the stage where you would ask if the food was on its way if the restaurant was taking its time with your order, but since Haaland is so reluctant to do these things, it got a little unsettling.

Especially when Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias came in first – these are notorious for spending hours in the gym after training.

“Fifteen, 20 minutes (more),” a member of the City press team reassured us. everything is OK.

About 10 minutes later, he arrived, had his photos taken for the official footage and then spoke to TV2, a station from his native Norway, which used to see a lot of him, but not much else. Three minutes to this point, in fact. seven after this.

When Haaland was done with everything else, he hit the road. And it was a move. This was taking place on a full-size indoor playing field at City’s training ground, and Grand Theft Auto’s main protagonist arrogantly walked across it.

“Hi, everyone,” he exclaimed.

There was a gathering of radio reporters to address him before he got to us in the written section, as the UK’s two major broadcasters struck a deal so both audiences could tune in to him.

Our pen was crammed: metal gates allowed five journalists – or six normal people – to stand side by side. The four of us had gotten the front row a couple of hours earlier—like fans showed up outside the venue at 7 a.m. on the day of Beyoncé’s concert. Everyone piled up in the back. One of the journalists even lifted a chair to stand on.

And then it started.

Haaland’s first two responses did not bode well.

Does the Golden Ball interest him?

He replied, “I don’t think about this, I think about winning the next game.”

What do you think of Inter Milan, who stands between City and the third? What are their strengths?

“I really don’t like to talk too much about my opponents…” He spoke a little, but not much, and after 30 seconds we had already asked two questions.

You’re probably thinking that these questions in and of themselves aren’t risky, which is a fair point. There was a little bit of planning involved, unfortunately. It was every man for himself.

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A Norwegian reporter, who also got a front-line position, tried several times to answer a question – but got bogged down. Haaland turned to him and said jokingly, “A little louder.”

It was the reporter in the chair who won that very battle, drowning three or four others. Haaland has said several times now that he was brought to City to help them win the Champions League – one of the most insightful things he’s done this season – so he was asked, from above, if that had caused any little pressure. days from the end.

“Of course I feel the pressure,” he said, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise but it did quite a bit, considering he’s revered as a footballing machine, despite his young age. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. You say it yourself and it’s true: they won the Premier League without me, they won every trophy without me. So I’m here to try to do something the club hasn’t done before, and I’m going to do my best.”

Then the Norwegian reporter got his chance and asked about the criticism Haaland faced earlier in the season, when it was said he was not fit for City, despite having scored 26 goals in 20 games by that point.

“I think it’s often a good thing when people start criticizing you,” he said. “I scored every game and then people started criticizing me. Basically that’s what happened. When people criticize you, it’s normal that it’s okay, it’s about trying to smile a bit and enjoy life.” (He didn’t actually score in every game.)

Asked about winning trophies at City, he pointed out how close they had come to the treble in the recent past – reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Champions League while winning the title last season, the first Champions League and the FA Cup. semi-final with topping the Premier League (and lifting the Carabao Cup) in 2020-21 – and ending with, “I don’t know what more to say.”

More criticism came after that.

Haaland missed two chances in the Community Shield defeat by Liverpool on his official debut with City in July, and after that, articles were written suggesting it might take some time for him to settle in after his move from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, while some of the more egregious social situations- Media accounts drew unfavorable comparisons to Darwin Nunez, Liverpool’s new striker, who scored that day.

When asked about it, he ends up making a joke, out of the blue, about his close friend Jack Grealish, who is only beginning to show his best form for City in his second season after joining from Aston Villa in the summer of 2021.

“I told Jack, sometimes players need maybe a year or something to get into the new league and new team and everything, and sometimes players come right in and perform… I told him that.” This made him laugh.

“So yeah, that was one game. Community Shield. I missed two big opportunities. It can happen, it will happen again. What can you do? Nothing. You have to focus on the next thing, the next game, and that’s what I did. I’ve I scored twice in the next game (the Premier League opener against West Ham), so it wasn’t a bad start.”

(Photo: Michael Regan – FA/FA via Getty Images)

Does he listen to criticism?

He says, “No, but I’m not stupid. I get stuff with me, of course. I don’t read anything because I think my brain would be a little crazy if I was reading everything everyone writes. So I can’t do that, but I get stuff with me, and then It would have been better to score two goals in the next match.”

After a few questions, Haaland was asked if he had set himself a target for the season, and if so… well, we couldn’t figure out why “if that was the case” because he had already given a firm, “no”.

A member of the City team indicated that the next question would be the last, and was about whether Haaland would eat his father’s homemade lasagna the night before the game, which has become a tradition all season.

He did not hear the first time and bowed with a big, “Eh?!” Then he added, “No, I think I’ll fly to Istanbul in a couple of days, so there won’t be anything to cook for. I’m sorry.”

Fortunately, he remained for two more questions, which gave an insight into his thinking at the end of the season in which he scored 52 goals, breaking all sorts of records, including the most goals in a single season in the Premier League. His first in the competition, of course, at 22.

Was he expecting to be instantly prolific?

“No, I didn’t expect to score that many goals, but then again, I could have scored more. I missed a lot of chances, so I could have scored more. That’s the truth.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he wants more and more goals, because that’s what we’re used to seeing in a City shirt, but it’s interesting that he gets a little laugh at himself, considering he’s literally laughing at being lost. Chances on the pitch sometimes.

So, what does it feel like to go into the Champions League final after scoring just one goal in his last seven games – not just his driest spell at City but with any of his clubs since he was a kid back home in Molde?

“You can think of it as one goal in seven games or 52 goals in 52 games…and eight assists, I guess,” adding the assists was very funny — hard to do.

“So you can think of it both ways.”

How does he think about it?

“I’m not stressed. I feel really good.”

See you in Türkiye, Erling. maybe.

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(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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