Manchester City’s Haaland could have played for England but now never will
Born in Leeds, Manchester City striker Erling Haaland could have represented England before becoming a regular international for Norway
In many cases, footballer’s live nomadic lives. Gone are the days when players used to spend their entire career at the same club. These days, you’re more likely to find a Rivaldo – who featured for 15 clubs in six different countries, than a Paolo Maldini or Franco Baresi, the ultimate one-club men.
As a result, you’ll sometimes find that footballers’ sons are born in unusual places. Did you know that Argentinian international striker Gonzalo Higuaín, who’s about to retire, was born in Brest in France? USMNT star Giovanni Reyna was born in England in Sunderland, when dad Claudio was playing for the Black Cats. Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcántara plays for Spain after growing up there but was born in San Pietro Vernotico in Italy, as his father, Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, played for Lecce in Serie A at the time.
And then there is man of the moment Erling Haaland. As you’ll no doubt have read, the Manchester City striker has put up some incredible numbers and broken all kinds of records since his move to England. 14 goals in eight league matches. Hat-tricks in three successive home fixtures in the Premier League. The fastest player to score three Premier League hat-tricks, smashing the previous record, set by Michael Owen, by a whopping 40 games.
Statistics which will leave England, and fans of the English national team, cursing their luck that Haaland didn’t opt to represent them at international level. Which he could’ve done.
Erling’s dad Alf-Inge was an early foreign import to the Premier League, making a total of 181 appearances in the English top flight for Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and City. It was during Haaland Sr’s spell at Elland Road that Haaland Jr was born, on 21 July 2000. The Haalands left England to return to Alf-Inge’s hometown of Byrne, near Stavanger, three years later but, born in Leeds, Erling was eligible to play for England.
That is not, however, how things have worked out and, at least, under the current rules, there is no chance of Haaland teaming up in attack with Harry Kane at a future World Cup or European Championship.
FIFA’s eligibility rules have moved with the times. Traditionally, footballers were only able to represent national teams they were citizens of, but this was modified in 2004 to combat the increasing number of foreign players who had become naturalised in certain countries. The new ruling stated that players had to demonstrate a ‘clear connection’ to the country they wanted to represent if they had not been born there. Players now had to have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in that country or have been a resident of that country for a period of two years, which was revised to five years after reaching the age of 18 in 2008.
For a long time, players were unable to play for a second country if they had already represented a different country in a competitive fixture (previously, this also included age-group competitive games). In September 2020, however, FIFA updated this rule, mainly for the benefit of players who had tied themselves to a country at a very young age but then not gone on to establish themselves in international football.
As things currently stand, if a player has played no more than three competitive matches for a national team before the age of 21, hasn’t featured in a major finals and three years have passed since their last appearance, they are allowed to switch to a different country. The age limit of 21 doesn’t apply to players whose last match for their previous national team came before the rule was introduced (September 2020).
Under the new rules, former Barcelona player Munir El Haddadi has switched from Spain, for whom he played in one competitive game, to Morocco. Hélder Costa, who spent last season on loan at Valencia from Leeds, now represents Angola having previously featured in a Nations League match for Portugal.
Unfortunately for England, there is no chance of Haaland following suit. The City hitman would be eligible to pull on the Three Lions jersey had Norway inexplicably decided that he wasn’t the man to lead their attack when he burst onto the scene a few years ago. Haaland has scored 21 goals in 23 international caps since making his debut in 2019, although his individual success has not led to collective glory, with Norway missing out on both Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup since their star striker made his debut.
England, by comparison, haven’t done too badly in that time. But with Haaland, we can only wonder what might have been.