It’s 22 October when I first have the opportunity to watch Erling Haaland play football in the flesh. Manchester City are facing Brighton at home, and during a fractured opening quarter the tall Norwegian prowls around the Etihad like a tiger frustrated by the lack of available prey to feast upon.
Then the opportunity presents itself: 22 minutes into the game, City’s goalkeeper Ederson sends a lofty through ball deep behind enemy lines and Haaland is away. Looking more like a Targaryen prince on dragonback than a football wunderkind (indeed, his fellow City players have nicknamed him Daemon Targaryen, in honour of his House of the Dragon doppelganger), the blonde striker bursts onto the ball, rounds the keeper, unceremoniously dismisses a charging defender, and coolly slots the ball home. It’s a typical Haaland goal in many respects, encompassing the unique composition of speed, strength and finesse that has turned him into the most fearsome centre forward on the planet.
It’s his 16th goal in just 11 Premier League starts for City since joining from Borussia Dortmund for £51.5m – a remarkable strike rate in any era, let alone when you consider the modern game’s habitual focus on defensive organisation – but Haaland isn’t done for the day. He doubles his tally just before half time, thrashing a penalty into the bottom-right corner, celebrating with two fingers held aloft.
It’s all in an afternoon’s work for the 22 year old. He’s a devastating weapon that has transformed Man City from being simply an excellent side to perhaps being the most complete football team we’ve seen in a decade or more. Crucially, Haaland might prove to be the missing puzzle piece that has prevented Pep Guardiola’s men from finally claiming the side’s first Champions League title.
With the likes of Ronaldo and Messi entering the twilight of their respective careers, there is room for a new footballing superpower – not just on the pitch, but off it as well – and the striking looks of Haaland certainly fit the bill. Few sportsmen are quite so distinctive both in their playing style or indeed their physical appearance, so it should come as no surprise that this heir apparent should have garnered interest from the world’s biggest brands.
He looks more like a Targaryen prince on dragonback than a football wunderkind
Indeed, Haaland has recently been snapped up by Breitling to be the new face of the independent Swiss watch brand. The striker joins other sporting names like basketball’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, snowboarding’s Chloe Kim, and American football’s Trevor Lawrence, to complete what Breitling is calling its new ‘all-star squad’.
“Erling Haaland is exactly what we look for in a squad member,” Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling, said at the point of the signing. “He’s a powerful performer, he’s got tremendous character, he’s completely authentic and down to earth – Erling is the absolute embodiment of Breitling’s casual and inclusive luxury.”
After the game, we joined Haaland for a chat, hosted by Breitling’s chief marketing officer Tim Sayler, to find out more about the Norwegian’s love of watches – and to gain some insight into his footballing mindset.
Square Mile //: You were born the same year your father joined Manchester City – and congratulations on such an incredible start, you’re making history here – but going back to that period of time, do you have memories of your father playing here? Do you have a favourite City player from back then?
Erling Haaland //: I don’t remember a lot, I have to admit. I was born in 2000 and I don’t remember going to the games 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, you have Nicolas Anelka, George Weah, huge players. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Anelka.
SM //: You’ve said that every week is like an exam for footballers – and that you have constant pressure. Given how relatively short football careers are, do you feel pressure to achieve certain things in that time or do you feel enjoyment, or is it a balance of both?
EH //: Yes, of course I feel pressure. Today I went out and played in front of 50,000 fans and I know it’s millions of people watching from home, but I think it’s about enjoyment. Life is short and a football career is short, so I’m going out there to enjoy as much as I can. It’s about enjoying the moment.
SM //: Your father had 18 Premier League goals and you now have 17. When do you think you’ll beat his record?
EH //: I’ll try to get past him in the next game! [He didn’t quite manage it – but broke even with his father Alfie in just his 12th game in the Premier League on 5 November, and surpassed the old man two matches later.]
SM //: It feels like a really good time to be a Norwegian sportsman. You’ve got Victor Hovland in golf and Karsten Warholm in athletics and of course yourself. Does that make you proud? You guys are putting Norway on the map…
EH //: It does make me proud, and the best part is that you actually forgot many others like Martin Ødegaard, for example. It is 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 was born in England but of course I am Norwegian, and it makes me proud that not only me but also many others are putting Norway on the map.
SM //: And back in Norway, do you know how much the interest in football has grown owing to yourself and of course Ødegaard?
EH //: I’m not counting how many are wearing my jersey. That’s for others to do, but of course 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 and now it shows that it is actually possible.
SM //: And what is the prize?
EH //: The prize is what you saw today: being able to celebrate in front of all of the fans and enjoy it. Being talked about as the current top scorer, which is a nice thing. Nothing makes me happier than running out there like a crazy guy celebrating a goal.
Nothing makes me happier than running out there like a crazy guy celebrating a goal
SM //: Let’s talk a little bit about your watch history. When and how did you get into watches? Did your dad turn you on to it?
EH //: I always knew a little bit about watches but not too much. It was actually someone close to me that really got me into it – and my father also always loved watches, too. Through them I kind of got the passion and more recently, during the pandemic, I had more time on my hands, so you go into Instagram and you see all these beautiful watches. That’s how I got into it properly.
SM //: What is it about Breitling in particular that made you want to work with them on an ambassadorial level?
EH //: First of all, it’s a cool watch brand. Second, my grandpa – who I’m named after – wore a Breitling, which is where I first came in contact with the brand. So I was always aware of it. And ultimately, for me, it’s about good vibes, having good energy around me. I felt that when I spoke with my dad about the brand after he talked with the Breitling team and he told me positive things about the conversations they had. When I met them myself, it was a lot of fun. The [campaign] shoot in Norway was long, I have to say, but it was fun and I met a lot of nice people. So it’s about the good vibes.
SM //: We’re here to present you with the new Chronomat GMT today. I’m interested to know why you chose the white dial?
EH //: I like it because I often wear white or black – and then it normally fits me well and with everything I wear. I really like this one. It’s a clean look that fits my style. SM //: Any other favourite dial colours? EH //: I’d have to say blue. My other watch I’ve with me today is blue.
SM //: Yes, that’s the Top Time Triumph with an ice blue dial. The colours of Manchester City, obviously. The ice blue you have is actually a chronograph and this one is a GMT, which one is your favourite out of the two?
EH //: Hmm, that’s a good question. With the Top Time, I scored a lot of goals when I wore it before my games so it’s going to be hard to change it now! We will have to see. If I don’t score in the next game having worn this new one, then that’s a problem.
SM //: OK. Well, I’m sure this new Chronomat GMT will work like a charm. The Top Time has a leather strap and this one a steel bracelet.
Do you have a preference?
EH //: Normally, the leather is more comfortable but this new one wears nicely and is very comfortable. So both.
SM //: At Breitling you’re now part of the Breitling Squad with other great athletes such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chloe Kim and Trevor Lawrence. If you could choose to try one of the other sports, basketball, snowboarding, or American football, what would it be?
EH //: I think I fit American football very well, if you saw the goal today! So yeah, maybe American football.
SM //: There are many other Squad members. Who would be your top rendezvous? Brad Pitt, Kelly Slater, Charlize Theron or anyone else from Breitling that you would like to meet?
EH //: Yeah I think Brad Pitt and I would bond very well together. That would be nice!
SM //: We’ll let him know! And if Breitling were to bring together a football squad, who would you like to have alongside you?
EH //: I think I’d need to have a Norwegian who speaks the same language, so Martin Ødegaard – and I would love to have Kevin De Bruyne. He assists me really well. It’s difficult to pick a squad for me as there are so many good players out there.
SM //: Very good. And your wish list for your next watch? Is there anything you would like Breitling to do that it doesn’t do yet, anything special, colour, diamonds, etc?
EH //: It needs to fit the right occasion. So, diamonds maybe not today, but in the summer it would fit me better. But honestly, I love the ice blue colour of the Top Time.
It is an important part of life to have good timing and in my world especially it’s essential
SM //: Since we’re talking about timing so much, timing is one of your strengths, timing in the box, sensing when you need to be there in the penalty area. Do you train that or is it just innate talent?
EH //: Yes, I’ve been training to some extent. For example, 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 to be prepared and to know what to do when they have the ball in a certain spot of the pitch.
It also comes down to myself. It is an important part of life to have good timing and in my world especially it’s essential. I’m training it, but it’s also an instinct that I’m born with – awareness and timing is everything that matters to me.
SM //: That’s the other thing. You are so cool on the pitch. Is that something you can learn? Do you do mental training?
EH //: I don’t do special mental training. In a situation like today, when I have to take a penalty, I focus on staying calm, on breathing, on trying 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 simply to get the ball in the back of the net – as in the end, that’s what I want to do and I love that feeling.
For more on Breitling, see breitling.com