Dortmund’s decline gives Haaland the hump and clouds Raiola’s grand plan | Andy Brassell
Even for a man who is making racing through his footballing to-do list his calling card, it was an abrupt exit. It was “exactly 14 seconds after the full-time whistle”, noted Bild’s Mirko Frank and Jörg Weiler, that Erling Braut Haaland was in the tunnel at Köln’s Rhein-Energie Stadion, tired of the gloomy scenario that his own last-minute equaliser had done little to alleviate.
The sense of Borussia Dortmund’s talisman having his patience stretched had been bobbing to the surface for much of the afternoon. Once again he had done the necessary, opening the scoring early on to suggest a tranquil Saturday afternoon stroll against one of the weakest sides in the division, and repeating the feat right at the end to save a point after Dortmund’s stumble from the path into tangled undergrowth in between had threatened to leave them spending the international window plucking thorns out of their hides.
Haaland’s voice, imploring in English, had echoed around the arena for many of those listless minutes, demanding more focus, more belief, the elements which he is increasingly demanded to supply. By the end, he’d had enough. Köln’s defender Jorge Meré had asked the Norwegian a few minutes before the finish if he could swap shirts with him at the whistle. When Daniel Siebert blew up, Haaland pulled his shirt off, thrust it into Meré’s midriff and took his leave without waiting for the reciprocal gesture, or to take counsel from his coach, Edin Terzic. The Spanish defender stood on the field wondering what had just happened.
“I couldn’t completely control myself,” Haaland told a Monday press conference with the Norway national team. “I was so pissed off.” That was clear. Reports including that by Frank and Weiler claimed Haaland had already ranted on his way into the changing rooms at half-time, by which time a passive BVB had chucked away the early lead he had granted them. “I fucking hate this,” he is claimed to have shouted. “Fucking bullshit.”
This is, of course, part of what makes Haaland so special – an insatiable desire, a refusal to accept defeat, an annoyance that he struggles to quell even when he spurns a chance in training. Those who seek to paint his outburst as tantamount to a transfer request have little handle on his character or his lack of regard for pandering to the media. Yet in the wake of the firing of Lucien Favre, this season’s metamorphosis into a grim struggle to claw back a Champions League place for next season is a concern. “As far too often this season,” wrote Ruhr Nachrichten’s Jürgen Koers, “Borussia built an inferior opponent into a serious opponent.”
Haaland loves the Champions League. Before he became the youngest player to hit 20 goals in the competition’s history (it took the 20-year-old 14 games), he drove around Salzburg with the anthem blaring from his car stereo, singing along. His plan – and that of his entourage, including Mino Raiola – has been to remain in Dortmund for next season before taking his pick of blue-chip destinations, likely to include BVB’s Champions League quarter-final opponents, Manchester City. Missing out on a return to his favourite stage would be a major fly in the ointment.
It would hurt for Dortmund, too, after a year of big financial losses. They have significant financial obligations, including the contracts of experienced pros such as Mats Hummels, Thomas Meunier (who had another miserable afternoon in Köln) and Emre Can. It was significant that Haaland’s equaliser was created by the debutant Ansgar Knauff, the latest talented teenager from the production line, with the elder statesmen labouring to provide what the team needs. Haaland is not just a star, but a leader already. Should he have to be?
With Eintracht Frankfurt the visitors immediately after the international break – they are four points ahead in fourth after beating Union Berlin 5-2, with André Silva’s brace leaving him level with Haaland on 21 Bundesliga goals – and an away trip to Stuttgart sandwiched in between the two legs against City, the period to mid-April will be absolutely decisive in terms of BVB’s future. And possibly Haaland’s.
“We will help him so that he can help us,” pledged Terzic. “We are very happy that he is with us.” The only question is whether the team can keep their side of the bargain to make sure that the status quo remains.
Bayern Munich found a new flex as they gain in strength approaching their titanic Champions League quarter-final with last season’s final opponents, Paris Saint-Germain, going a man down after 13 minutes – Alphonso Davies being sent off for a horrible studs-up challenge on Wataru Endo – but going in at half-time 4-0 up after a hat-trick by Robert Lewandowski. Off the field, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge took a hard line to try to end the speculation linking Hansi Flick with the Germany job. “We would be well advised to finish what we have contractually agreed,” he told Die Welt am Sonntag in an interview. “I communicated this to Hansi in no uncertain terms.”
Leipzig chiselled out a 1-0 victory in what had the potential to be a very frustrating Friday night at Arminia Bielefeld thanks to Marcel Sabitzer’s tapped-in winner, keeping the fires burning ready for Bayern’s imminent visit. The pair meet at Red Bull Arena on the first weekend back after the internationals, and Leipzig had hoped to welcome 999 fans for the occasion, but the city’s mayor, Burkhard Jung, said that it’s just too soon. “The admission of spectators is still an illusion in the current situation,” he said in a specially called Monday morning press conference.
Borussia Mönchengladbach finally ended their dreadful run of seven straight defeats in exactly the place you would expect them to, at Schalke, who were flattered by the visitors’ 3-0 win. “The collective identity was never gone,” argued Marco Rose, who admitted his relief as he stated his aim to get Gladbach back into Europe. “We just didn’t have the results.” The man tasked with succeeding Rose will be Xabi Alonso, the current Real Sociedad B coach, who already speaks excellent German from his time at Bayern.
So, Schalke. The major blow of this week wasn’t the result, but the news that Ralf Rangnick had pulled out of negotiations to return to the club as sporting director for next season “due to the numerous imponderables within the club”, according to his statement. The prospective budget he had to work with seems to have been an issue, and last week’s announcement of the signing of the 31-year-old Danny Latza from Mainz didn’t appear to fit his Hoffenheim/Leipzig youngster-based model (and is widely reported to have perplexed him).
There’s relief for Hertha and Pal Dardai, who had kicked off against Leverkusen on Sunday afternoon in the relegation zone after Mainz’s win at Hoffenheim but started strongly. Deyovaisio Zeefuik’s spectacular opener was followed by strikes by Matheus Cunha (his first goal in 1,048 minutes) and Jhon Córdoba to seal a resounding win and give them breathing space. Peter Bosz could do with something similar as his side’s slump continued, and the concern at the club had already been flagged by sporting director, Simon Rolfes, earlier in the week. “A year without Europe is inconceivable,” Rolfes warned.