Depending on your exact preferences in these matters, it may or may not be difficult to say who is the most talented 22-year-old Norwegian in the sports world right now. At least until next Monday.
I was checking on Erling Haaland’s age after that late winner scored for Manchester City against his former club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Haaland turned 22 on July 21 and may be on his way to setting another age group record of sorts as I write.
He trained with Bryne FC Under-19 at the age of 14, scoring from halfway through at 15, then with Salzburg FC, the first teenager to score in five consecutive Champions League matches, then in the 2019 U-20 World Cup scoring nine goals. In one match, etc.
City coach Pep Guardiola said his acrobatic goal against Dortmund – superbly designed by Joao Cancelo – brought back memories of Johan Cruyff, who scored a similar goal for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid.
It was definitely a genius move, at least in being able to see it coming. Or what the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said always separates talent from genius in the first place, that while talent may achieve what others cannot achieve, genius achieves what others cannot imagine.
Or, as Schopenhauer also said, talent is like the archer who hits a target others cannot reach, while genius is like the archer who hits a target others cannot see.
“I think that’s his nature, he’s flexible, he’s flexible, and then he has the ability to connect and put the ball into the net,” Guardiola said. “I think his mom and dad give him that flexibility.”
You know what they say about choosing your parents wisely: his father Alfie is a former Nottingham Forest, Leeds (where Erling was born) and Manchester City defender, and his mother Grey Marietta Braut is a former Norwegian heptathlon champion.
It appears his father was also keen that the young Erling tried some other sports while he could, which he did: handball, cross-country skiing, athletics, and is said to have set a world record for longest jump of five years-old, 1.63 metres. , in 2006.
But once he started at his hometown club Brian’s academy at the age of five, every other sport was left behind, and so might that happen. An early major in sports may not be recommended, but it is still the key to winning anything major.
Jakob Ingbrigtsen is another Norwegian in this athletic field, the Olympic 1500m champion who will complete 22 next Monday. Like Haaland, he got involved in some other sports when he was a very young child, such as cross-country skiing, before early specialization became the key to his success as well.
“Then there is Jacob. When he was eleven, he said to me, ‘I want to be the best runner in the world.’ He really worked out everything in his mind. From that day on, he never wavered.”
Gjert Ingebrigtsen has told this story before, more than once, and he never wavered in his belief that Jacob, the second youngest of his six children, would one day become the best runner in the world.
So it happened on a Saturday evening in August last year, inside that nearly empty Olympic stadium, that he won gold in the men’s 1500m race Ingbrigtsen, who was then 20 years and 11 months old. The first Norwegian to win the ancient blue-ribbon event, and the second youngest-ever winner, was also among the flawlessly executed races in Olympic history.
Ahead of the world championships in Oregon in July, Ingebrigtsen gave a long and very surprising interview to the New York Times, talking about what it takes to succeed at his level in long-distance running. “I am always waiting for something and always training for something,” he said. “My life is basically a waiting game.”
“If people can study in a boot camp while they are also doing two sessions a day, they are not training as well as they should. You have to sleep and then do something brain dead to keep you ready for the next session.”
Whether this is a health obsession or not, regardless of age, who really knows. Ingbrigtsen was just 17 years old when he won a major double gold at the European Championships over 1500m/5000m, a first in the 84-year history of the tournament.
“I’ve been a professional sprinter since I was eight, nine and 10,” he said then, in no way impressed by his genius, repeating the achievement in Munich last month, still only 21.
Ingebrigtsen didn’t quite achieve a similar double in Oregon, where he defeated Britain’s Jake Whiteman in the 1500m, describing that experience as “losing to an inferior athlete”.
It’s still impossible to see why Ingebrigtsen hasn’t won so much, just like Carlos Alcaraz, the young Spaniard who won the US Open last weekend – becoming the youngest-ever men’s world number one at 19 years, four months and six days.
Alcaraz is also the first teenager in the Open Era to top the men’s rankings, since 1973, and there’s no denying the talent, genius, and acrobatic ease with which he plays his game.
By all accounts, Alcaraz knew nothing other than tennis, and there was a reminder of that too among the applause for Roger Federer this week, remember Wimbledon 2001, when he, at the age of 19, beat Pete Sampras in the fourth round, before winning outright in 2003 at 21, already with that feeling ‘finally’.
This remains an often controversial topic, and there may have been some split of opinion over Christopher Atherton, who, aged 13 years and 329 days, came on as a second-half substitute in the Northern Ireland League Cup match for Glenavon against Dollingstown on Tuesday. .
Atherton thus broke the UK record for the youngest player to appear in a major football match. For some he was dangerously young, the club irresponsible even in his looks, while for others there may be new evidence that early specialization is still the key to winning anything big. Just another young player trying to define that distance between talent and genius.