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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Erling Braut Haaland

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Erling Braut Haaland

“And Solskjær has won it for Manchester United”, is as iconic as an iconic moment can be.

In 1999, the Norwegian was substituted in the Champions League final against Germany’s FC Bayern and in overtime he became the big hero. He came on in the 81st minute, at 0-1, and just over two minutes into overtime, he scored the winning goal from a corner kick.

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Goal sneak Solskjær

The goal has made him a legend and part of United history. In total, he scored 126 times during eleven seasons for the big club. He became known as a goal sneaker – a super substitute who didn’t need many chances or touches to find the back of the net.

There is little doubt that the Norwegian was a classic “9er striker”. Hard-working, of course, like everyone else who played under Sir Alex Ferguson, but his greatest quality was undoubtedly being in the right place at the right time when the ball tumbled into the penalty area.

There are many examples of this tip type. We can mention, for example, people like Gary Lineker, Robbie Fowler, Alan Shearer, Filippo Inzaghi, Javier Hernandez, Andy Cole, Ian Wright, Miroslav Klose and Ruud van Nistelrooy, among many.

After an era in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have largely redefined what is expected of a forward, the classic “9er striker” has largely been resurrected with Erling Braut Haaland’s foray into European football and the Premier League.

Jærbuen has broken a number of scoring records in a short time and in less than two seasons he has netted 83 goals for Manchester City.

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher has stated that “we thought this type of striker was extinct”.

Recently, however, the 23-year-old has had to endure a lot of criticism. Many believe he is too little involved in the game, does not work well enough defensively and is largely a “luxury player” in Josep Guardiola’s title-winning Manchester City team.

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In particular, the number of touches of the ball per game has been a recurring theme when it comes to the Norwegian. ESPN journalist Mark Ogden recently wrote that it has almost become an obsession among experts to criticize Haaland for the number of touches.

Solskjær vs. Haaland

This is a type of criticism that was rarely raised against Solskjær and other classic “9er forwards” in their heyday.

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Viaplay expert Kasper Wikestad points out that it is primarily about technological progress in football.

– At that time they did not count the number of touches on the players, says Wikestad to Nettavisen.

– There has been an extremely large amount of statistics and other types of technology now, which everyone has access to, he points out.

But how does Haaland actually measure up against Solskjær in terms of the number of touches of the ball? It is difficult to say anything concrete about, since there are not enough statistics on Solskjær, but it is still possible to give a small clue.

It was not until the 2006/07 season of the Premier League that the number of touches on the ball per match was recorded. Solskjær played 19 league games for United that season, scored seven goals, and had 426 ball touches. In total, he had 916 minutes on the pitch.

In comparison, Erling Braut Haaland has so far played 2,185 minutes for City this season and has 576 touches in total in the league.

This means that Solskjær that season had around 42.5 touches per 90 minutes, while this season Haaland has 24. Last season, when the jærbuen became top scorer with 36 league goals, he was marginally higher with around 26 touches per 90 minutes.

A marked difference between Solskjær in 2007 and Haaland in 2024, however, is that the former was then on the cusp of his career, with all the experience and understanding of the game that entails. Haaland, on the other hand, is still 23 years old and developing.

Wikestad, for his part, believes that the focus on the number of touches is mainly about creating headlines.

– In today’s media world, it is important to find your own angles. Therefore, they go deeper into the matter than before, Wikestad believes.

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– But if you look at Haaland’s goal average, it is unique in recent football history. What he has done in Austria, Germany, in the Premier League and in the Champions League is hardly debatable. Then it is natural to use other figures to create discussion, says Wikestad.

Taking Haaland in defense

In the 2006/07 season, it was also Chelsea’s Didier Drogba who became the top scorer with 20 league goals.

The tall Ivorian had 1,331 touches of the ball in 2,944 minutes of playing time. Of those who can be classified as a traditional ‘9 forward’ this season, it is Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew who has the most touches of the ball with 1394 in 2371 minutes.

Only Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Julian Alvarez (Man City) and Dwight McNeil (Everton) have more touches per game this season than Ayew if you look at all those defined as attacking players in the official statistics of the Premier League.

The man from Ghana has scored four league goals, compared to Haaland’s 20 goals in the Premier League so far this season.

If we look at all the top scorers in the Premier League since the number of touches was recorded for the first time, there is still one who has fewer touches per 90 minutes played than Haaland. In the 2019/20 season, Jamie Vardy (Leicester) became top scorer with 23 goals.

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He had 792 total touches in 3037 minutes of football. That gives around 20 touches of the ball per 90 minutes.

The figures above show that Haaland has roughly the same number of ball touches this season as last season, when he was hailed as a sensation by most experts. City hero Paul Dickov has a slightly different opinion of what the difference is now.

The Scot believes that other clubs have taken their precautions to a far greater extent when dealing with Haaland.

– I think the criticism against him is unfair, Dickov says according to the report The Mirror.

– He lives on chances and on getting through in the back room. But what many teams do now is that they defend very, very deep, which means that he does not get this space to run in, says the man with 180 games in the City kit.

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Furthermore, Dickov points out that in any case it would have been almost impossible for Haaland to copy what he delivered last season.

– This season he has missed ten games, but he is still top scorer in the Premier League (shared with Cole Palmer). It shows that if he gets the chance, he scores. But all credit to Real Madrid for the way they stopped him, says Dickov.

Haaland in 2018: – Thanks Solskjær

Incidentally, it is part of history that Solskjær has had a hand in the development of Haaland.

The two worked together in Molde, where Solskjær was the manager and Jærbuen a young up-and-coming striker.

In a major interview with Nettavisen in 2018, Haaland opened up about the importance Solskjær had for him in Molde.

– He has had a big impact on me getting to where I am today and I am still learning from him. I hope that one day I will be as good as he was at finishing. Then I will score goals around the world, Haaland said at the time.

This was a few weeks before he moved to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and was seriously noticed around the world.

– I cannot thank him enough for what I have learned from him. It’s at every training session. Every day we talk together, we discuss and we have had a kind of father-son relationship and he has meant an incredible amount, Haaland said of Solskjær.

In the same interview, Solskjær also spoke about Haaland’s qualities. At the time, the striker was only 18 years old.

– He knows he can improve as a play-off point. He also has to work on stability and bottom level. But he’s going to be great. When I say he has to work on these things, it’s something all 18-year-olds have to do. He has to work all the way with the next chance, and the next ball, said Solskjær.

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