Sports FOOTBALL 'Once blue, you're blue' Haaland extended City bonds

‘Once blue, you’re blue’ Haaland extended City bonds

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ERling Haaland may be a rarity in the brand-conscious world of blockbuster transfers: the signing of a superstar whose professed love for Manchester City is actually genuine. While many footballers kiss the badge and refer to being an A club fan as a child, Haaland, a 22-year-old centre-forward whose father, Alfie, played for City, was popular with teammates and staff and led his little son to the champions. Former stadium on Maine Road.

Roy Bailey was City’s physio when Haaland Sr. spent three seasons at the club since 2000. “I remember him bringing his young boyfriend Erling when he was injured on a Sunday morning,” he says. “He had the freedom of Maine Road. I saw him little when he brought him to the treatment room and let him run around the field. Alfie loved City very much.

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Bailey was treating Erling’s father when he suffered Roy Keane’s infamous tackle during a 1–1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford on 21 April 2001. In the 86th minute, Keane hit Haaland on the right leg, doubling the defender. It was an act of revenge, the Irishman was angry over an incident four years earlier during a match at Alfie’s then-club Leeds. After Keane fell to the Elland Road turf due to injury, the Norwegian stood over him and accused the midfielder of simulating. Keane actually suffered a torn ACL and, as he documented in his 2002 autobiography, was waiting for his moment to repay Haaland. “I hit him like hell,” Keene wrote. “The ball was there. Take that you cunt. And don’t ever stand over me mocking fake injuries.”

Erling grew up understanding his father’s reluctance to talk about this episode. But while Keane insisted in his second autobiography, published in 2014, that he had no regrets, Bailey reveals that the Irishman showed concern about the challenge for which he was removed. “It was a bad capture, I know it,” Bailey says. “But to be honest, Roy Keane caught me right after the game and asked about him. I just said, “Don’t worry about him. We froze him and he doesn’t seem to have any serious knee problems.”

Bailey remembers how he ran to treat Alfie that day. “Lucky Alfie saw it coming,” he says. “When I saw Roy tackle Alfie, I knew he was going to catch him with his foot. It’s a good job he foresaw, because if you’re standing on a stationary leg and someone catches you like that, you’re going to seriously injure your knee.”

Tony Grant, a midfielder who played alongside the Norwegian at Old Trafford, says: “Alfie was a loved one – he worked hard, was a great guy – that was really the main thing about him. Going back to those days, things are not as they are now – we are more and more educated, we all know that there are eyes everywhere, social media has increased. [the scrutiny] tenfold.

Roy Keane scolds Alfie Haaland for brutally injuring him during the Manchester derby in April 2001. Photograph: Phil Noble/PA.

“But Roy clearly had what happened in his mind. [at Elland Road]. Roy didn’t take many prisoners, did he? He held something close and did what he did – it was retribution. Horrible. Roy was an exceptional footballer and he had another side to him. But I don’t think it was personal. I think again, you, how would you put it? Not touchy, but if you’re seriously injured and someone teases you, you can’t wait, especially if you’re so inclined. It was purely professional.”

Although Haaland could have finished the derby, by the summer of 2003 he had retired at the age of only 30 due to an injury to his other knee. Bailey says: “Roy seized the moment and caught him with a nasty tackle, but I doubt it ended Alfie Haaland’s career.” However, Haaland Sr. suggested Keane did, citing he never played the full 90 minutes again, having only played once for City that season – 68 minutes in the following week’s draw against West Ham – plus four substitute appearances during the next campaign. .

Erling’s father, who considered taking legal action against Keene but decided he didn’t have a strong enough case, remembered the saga years later. “He tried to grab me and I got a free kick,” Alfie said of the incident. “He was lying on the ground and I just told him to get up, like they usually do with players, and nothing more. I didn’t try to plot against him, but he took it very hard.”

Of calling out the horrors of Keane, he added: “For eight years I have not been injured. Coincidence or not, these were my last 90 minutes in England. Is this a coincidence or not? If you are in the ground and someone hits you on the right leg, you can still twist the other leg. He might get hurt and that’s probably what happened [to my left knee]. I didn’t play a full 90 minutes after that incident, that’s a hard fact. And people can judge what they want.

“I found out later that it was on purpose, and he wanted revenge and all that. I think it’s a little sad. Sad for football, and I didn’t feel well at the time either.”

After his playing days were over, Alfie Haaland moved his family to Brune before his son's star started to rise as a player.
After his playing days were over, Alfie Haaland moved his family to Brune before his son’s star started to rise as a player. Photograph: Leon Kügeler/Reuters

In retirement, Haaland Sr. moved the family back to Bryne in southwestern Norway, where he worked on the local council. Erling, who played a major role in the youth teams, began his stellar journey there.

Haaland Jr.’s reputation in Brune is exemplary – he is considered a likable character, just like his father. Erling’s only points of disagreement were when, as a teenager, playing time could be restricted to control his development.

Erling moved from Brunet to Molde in 2017, where he was managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, where he began scoring goals – 20 in 50 games – before moving on to Red Bull Salzburg (2019) and Borussia Dortmund ( 2020) just in time. No. 9 arrived at City with 135 goals and 36 assists in 166 games for the last three clubs.

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He returns to the club his father took him to as a child, and later to see when Alfie is gone and City is still on the road. Family ties grow stronger as Erling prepares to make his Premier League debut for champions Pep Guardiola at West Ham on Sunday.

“There aren’t many players who don’t feel that way,” Bailey says of those associated with City. “If you are blue, you are blue. Alfie was a good guy. He worked hard in training, went to rehab whenever he needed to, and was a top-notch athlete. Whenever you gave Alfie something to do, he did it properly. He came early for treatment and early for training, he prepared himself correctly. He was a super guy for us. Now Erling has signed a contract – fantastic.”

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