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How Erling Haaland is dividing his  country ahead of Manchester United vs Man City FA Cup clash



Erling Haaland has already punished United this season

Manchester United are one of the best supported clubs in Norway but it is a country that takes pride in their sports stars and Erling Haaland is an export shining on the big stage at Manchester City.

“We’re a small county but we’re very proud of our sports heroes,” says Jan Age Fjortoft, one of Norway’s first exports to English football and now the face of the Premier League coverage back home for Viaplay.

That pride has swelled this season with the exploits of Erling Haaland at Manchester City. A record number of Premier League goals, more than 50 in all competitions and the chance to be part of a team that wins a historic treble over the next couple of weeks. Haaland’s mind-bending numbers have been the storyline of this Premier League season.

Norway has long had a love affair with English football, thanks to adopting early TV coverage of the game, and every weekend thousands of fans head for the country’s airports and fly into Manchester, Liverpool and London to watch their teams.

This season, more and more have been heading to the Etihad to watch their most famous son. As Fjortoft jokes, Haaland (and Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard) should be appointed the Norwegian ambassadors to England.


But if interest in City is going up thanks to Haaland, it doesn’t match the support of United, who along with Liverpool have a huge fanbase in Norway.

So if this weekend’s FA Cup final is going to split Greater Manchester here, in Norway it’s going to split an entire country down the middle. There will be no neutrals tuning into the action at Wembley.

“I think there will be a lot of people who follow the game and I think it’s only the United supporters who will support United, all others will support City because of Erling,” said Alf Ingve Bernsten, one of Haaland’s first coaches at hometown club Bryne FK.

If Norwegians are bursting with pride at Haaland’s achievements this season, then what about those who support United in the country? What do they make of it all given the impact he’s had on the success of their rivals. Is there still an admiration there?

“I think to get that out to them you will need Scotland Yard to get them to say it in public,” said Fjortoft, who played in England from 1993 to 1998.


“But I’m very naive, I can still follow my teams but I’m proud of Norwegians doing well. My dad has been a United fan since the Munich disaster in ’58 and the George Best era, so not even 52 goals can get him from red to blue.”

“I think every United fan will absolutely put United first,” explains Eivind Holth, a Norwegian journalist from United’s Scandinavian Supporters’ Club.

“It’s amazing and you’re impressed and so on, but it’s a tough watch because you don’t really want him to do well, especially not for City.

“Norway is still a small country and as with Solskjaer, the whole nation is obviously keeping tabs on Haaland. We did when he was at Dortmund as well, we’re always very, very proud of Norwegian athletes when they make their mark worldwide. With Haaland, it’s obviously been amazing, but for United fans, it’s been difficult.”

United came close to signing Haaland when he left Red Bull Salzburg to join Borussia Dortmund in 2020, with countryman and then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meeting the player.


When he left the Bundesliga last summer United were at a low ebb and were never in with a chance of landing a player who by then was one of the most prized strikers in the world. To make matters worse, especially for Norwegian reds, he chose City ahead of Real Madrid.

But Holth believes the arrival of Haaland at the Etihad has actually added some spice to how the Manchester derby is seen in Norway, with the fixtures between United and Liverpool traditionally seen as the bigger games.

“I guess for Norwegian United fans, the rivalry has become even more prestigious. Although there are not many Norwegian City fans you want United to beat Haaland and you don’t want to see him hurt you like he did in the first match [when he scored a hat-trick in the Etihad derby].

“I think for many United fans in Norway, the City rivalry hasn’t meant too much for the last 20 or 30 years, because the rivalry is not very big in Norway, it’s the Manchester derby and obviously you can feel how much it means when you’re over there.

“But in Norway, it’s Liverpool and United, so that’s historically been the biggest rivalry. Now it’s more like Haaland against United I guess.”


The obsession with Haaland in Norway is very real. The country’s biggest newspaper, VG, recently launched an online ‘Haaland Tracker’ to enable readers to keep abreast of all the records he has set.

His every move attracts media attention and journalists can be criticised for writing stories when he changes his hairstyle, so his impact is substantial, but as for his impact on City’s support in Norway, this is where people disagree.

Holth claims City’s Norwegian supporters’ club hasn’t had an uptick in interest despite Haaland’s heroics. In his hometown of Bryne, however, Bernsten is noticing more and more blue shirts on the streets.

“With the children growing up they support City, but the adults support their club plus Erling. So like me, I’m a Liverpool supporter and Erling. So we follow both our original team and Erling is doing well,” he said.

“The adults are supporters of Erling rather than City, but the children it’s more and more City supporters because of Erling. Erling is a very loveable guy, and we all want him to do well. So that’s not a problem at all. I think that often people in Bryne feel they own a bit of Erling.”


Fjortoft believes the support for English clubs is cyclical for youngsters and that with City now having their own Norwegian hero, they could soon be on the rise.

“There was always a following of Manchester City,” he said. “To be fair, there’s a lot of core Manchester City fans that used to be there before money was pumped into the club, that is part of the Norwegian football support, they have been there for ages.

“Then you recruit a lot of new ones with the things he’s doing at the moment. You can see by age sometimes, Liverpool with John Arne Riise, then Solskjaer, Henning Berg and Ronnie Johnsen at United winning trophies, it goes up and down with followers, but I would guess City would have the biggest increase lately.”

Fjortoft, who did a documentary with Haaland called Decision for Viaplay, expects viewing numbers for the FA Cup final and Champions League final to be “enormous” in Norway.

It would be little surprise if Haaland had a significant influence on at least one of those games. As Bernsten said: “I thought he would score a lot of goals but I didn’t expect 50. That was a big number. In a way it’s both expected and unreal.”


It’s just not so easy for United fans in Norway to appreciate it.


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.