The German club have had a number of different forwards since the Pole left in 2014, but finally have found someone that can fill his role
“I don’t think we’ve had that kind of striker since Robert Lewandowski,” is how Marco Reus described Erling Braut Haaland to Sky Germany after the striker trained with Borussia Dortmund for the first time.
In the six years since Lewandowski left Dortmund for Bayern Munich, Reus has played alongside a variety of forwards, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ciro Immobile and Paco Alcacer, with Aubameyang even winning the Bundesliga top scorer award in 2016-17.
Alcacer’s return has also been impressive, 26 goals in 46 games, but none of these strikers was an out-and-out centre forward in the mould of Lewandowski. Reus believes Haaland is the type of player who can fill the shoes of the third-highest goalscorer in Bundesliga history.
“He gives us the option to be more flexible and to play in different systems and styles,” Reus continued.
“He’s a very open guy. First of all, it’s important to get to know him. He gives us another way of playing and we have to be able to work with him, too, and bring out all his strengths. But that will all come about in time.”
These strengths are what made Haaland so sought-after during the January transfer window, moving on from Red Bull Salzburg less than five months after he had joined them from Molde.
Former Molde boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had tried to tempt the 19-year-old to join him at Manchester United, but Haaland decided a move to Dortmund was best for his career as it gives him a chance of regular top-flight and Champions League football.
“They just went direct and said, ‘We need you up front, we like your playing style and we want to have you here’,” Haaland revealed.
“I liked how they spoke to me then and that’s what triggered me [to sign]. I just felt that me and Dortmund was a good match.”
A move to Manchester United would have seen Haaland drop down to the Europa League, but at Dortmund he can continue his quest to be the Champions League top scorer.
The teenager has been a revelation in the tournament, having become the first player to score six goals in their first three games in the competition. He then became the first teenager to score in their first five appearances in the history of the European Cup.
His eight goals in the group stage are bettered by just one player this season – arguably the world’s greatest No.9 at the moment – Lewandowski.
The Polish striker was 21 when he moved from Lech Poznan to Borussia Dortmund, having scored 41 goals in 82 games in all competitions for them. He started slowly in the Bundesliga with nine goals in his first campaign, but scored 20 or more league goals in the next three seasons at the Westfalenstadion.
With 28 goals in 22 games already this season for Salzburg, Haaland will be expected to have a quicker start than Lewandowski’s at Dortmund, where his arrival has led to rumours that current top scorer Alcacer could leave the club.
Alf Ingve Berntsen worked with Haaland during his formative years at Bryne FK and believes being a regular starter will be crucial for his development as sitting on the bench would stop him from reaching Lewandowski levels.
“He still has some way to go before he reaches the level of Robert Lewandowski,” Haaland’s former coach told Goal and SPOX.
“Erling is a dominant character, sitting on the bench would not be easy for him. What many forget: Haaland was not even a regular player at Salzburg recently.
“The most important thing for Erling is to play regularly at the highest possible level. It would be bad for him not to play at his new club.
“He needs playing time at the highest level in order to evolve. To be a substitute at a top club would be a hindrance to this development.”
After starring in the Austrian Bundesliga, Haaland is likely to make his German Bundesliga debut this weekend as Borussia Dortmund travel to Augsburg, hoping to move closer to current leaders RB Leipzig.
Lucien Favre’s men are still in with a chance of competing for the title, sitting just three points behind Bayern Munich in fourth position at the winter break.
Reus believes that Haaland’s addition has rounded out the team and given them something that was lacking, helping turn them into proper contenders by giving them someone who finally has the all-round game to fill Lewandowski’s shoes at Dortmund.
“If you look at our squad, what more could you ask for in terms of quality?” Reus said. “We have to show it on the pitch, then our squad can take us anywhere.
“We’ve got a very good striker and new options, therefore, we’re in a good place.
“[Winning the title] is as realistic as it was at the start of the season. I wouldn’t say it’s in our own hands, but we’re definitely in the right place to fight back.
“Don’t forget about Dortmund now.”