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FA Cup

How Erling Haaland is dividing his  country ahead of Manchester United vs Man City FA Cup clash



Erling Haaland has already punished United this season

Manchester United are one of the best supported clubs in Norway but it is a country that takes pride in their sports stars and Erling Haaland is an export shining on the big stage at Manchester City.

“We’re a small county but we’re very proud of our sports heroes,” says Jan Age Fjortoft, one of Norway’s first exports to English football and now the face of the Premier League coverage back home for Viaplay.

That pride has swelled this season with the exploits of Erling Haaland at Manchester City. A record number of Premier League goals, more than 50 in all competitions and the chance to be part of a team that wins a historic treble over the next couple of weeks. Haaland’s mind-bending numbers have been the storyline of this Premier League season.

Norway has long had a love affair with English football, thanks to adopting early TV coverage of the game, and every weekend thousands of fans head for the country’s airports and fly into Manchester, Liverpool and London to watch their teams.

This season, more and more have been heading to the Etihad to watch their most famous son. As Fjortoft jokes, Haaland (and Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard) should be appointed the Norwegian ambassadors to England.


But if interest in City is going up thanks to Haaland, it doesn’t match the support of United, who along with Liverpool have a huge fanbase in Norway.

So if this weekend’s FA Cup final is going to split Greater Manchester here, in Norway it’s going to split an entire country down the middle. There will be no neutrals tuning into the action at Wembley.

“I think there will be a lot of people who follow the game and I think it’s only the United supporters who will support United, all others will support City because of Erling,” said Alf Ingve Bernsten, one of Haaland’s first coaches at hometown club Bryne FK.

If Norwegians are bursting with pride at Haaland’s achievements this season, then what about those who support United in the country? What do they make of it all given the impact he’s had on the success of their rivals. Is there still an admiration there?

“I think to get that out to them you will need Scotland Yard to get them to say it in public,” said Fjortoft, who played in England from 1993 to 1998.


“But I’m very naive, I can still follow my teams but I’m proud of Norwegians doing well. My dad has been a United fan since the Munich disaster in ’58 and the George Best era, so not even 52 goals can get him from red to blue.”

“I think every United fan will absolutely put United first,” explains Eivind Holth, a Norwegian journalist from United’s Scandinavian Supporters’ Club.

“It’s amazing and you’re impressed and so on, but it’s a tough watch because you don’t really want him to do well, especially not for City.

“Norway is still a small country and as with Solskjaer, the whole nation is obviously keeping tabs on Haaland. We did when he was at Dortmund as well, we’re always very, very proud of Norwegian athletes when they make their mark worldwide. With Haaland, it’s obviously been amazing, but for United fans, it’s been difficult.”

United came close to signing Haaland when he left Red Bull Salzburg to join Borussia Dortmund in 2020, with countryman and then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meeting the player.


When he left the Bundesliga last summer United were at a low ebb and were never in with a chance of landing a player who by then was one of the most prized strikers in the world. To make matters worse, especially for Norwegian reds, he chose City ahead of Real Madrid.

But Holth believes the arrival of Haaland at the Etihad has actually added some spice to how the Manchester derby is seen in Norway, with the fixtures between United and Liverpool traditionally seen as the bigger games.

“I guess for Norwegian United fans, the rivalry has become even more prestigious. Although there are not many Norwegian City fans you want United to beat Haaland and you don’t want to see him hurt you like he did in the first match [when he scored a hat-trick in the Etihad derby].

“I think for many United fans in Norway, the City rivalry hasn’t meant too much for the last 20 or 30 years, because the rivalry is not very big in Norway, it’s the Manchester derby and obviously you can feel how much it means when you’re over there.

“But in Norway, it’s Liverpool and United, so that’s historically been the biggest rivalry. Now it’s more like Haaland against United I guess.”


The obsession with Haaland in Norway is very real. The country’s biggest newspaper, VG, recently launched an online ‘Haaland Tracker’ to enable readers to keep abreast of all the records he has set.

His every move attracts media attention and journalists can be criticised for writing stories when he changes his hairstyle, so his impact is substantial, but as for his impact on City’s support in Norway, this is where people disagree.

Holth claims City’s Norwegian supporters’ club hasn’t had an uptick in interest despite Haaland’s heroics. In his hometown of Bryne, however, Bernsten is noticing more and more blue shirts on the streets.

“With the children growing up they support City, but the adults support their club plus Erling. So like me, I’m a Liverpool supporter and Erling. So we follow both our original team and Erling is doing well,” he said.

“The adults are supporters of Erling rather than City, but the children it’s more and more City supporters because of Erling. Erling is a very loveable guy, and we all want him to do well. So that’s not a problem at all. I think that often people in Bryne feel they own a bit of Erling.”


Fjortoft believes the support for English clubs is cyclical for youngsters and that with City now having their own Norwegian hero, they could soon be on the rise.

“There was always a following of Manchester City,” he said. “To be fair, there’s a lot of core Manchester City fans that used to be there before money was pumped into the club, that is part of the Norwegian football support, they have been there for ages.

“Then you recruit a lot of new ones with the things he’s doing at the moment. You can see by age sometimes, Liverpool with John Arne Riise, then Solskjaer, Henning Berg and Ronnie Johnsen at United winning trophies, it goes up and down with followers, but I would guess City would have the biggest increase lately.”

Fjortoft, who did a documentary with Haaland called Decision for Viaplay, expects viewing numbers for the FA Cup final and Champions League final to be “enormous” in Norway.

It would be little surprise if Haaland had a significant influence on at least one of those games. As Bernsten said: “I thought he would score a lot of goals but I didn’t expect 50. That was a big number. In a way it’s both expected and unreal.”


It’s just not so easy for United fans in Norway to appreciate it.


Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

FA Cup

FA Cup win could be glorious United farewell for Ten Hag



FA Cup - Final - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 25, 2024 Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes and manager Erik ten Hag celebrate with the trophy after winning the FA Cup Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridg

If Manchester United’s thrilling and surprise FA Cup victory over Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday was manager Erik ten Hag’s final game as their manager, then what a send-off it was.

Teenagers Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo scored to lead United to a 2-1 upset of the holders and Premier League champions as speculation swirled about Ten Hag’s future.

Although the 54-year-old Dutchman told ITV he had no doubt he would be back and has said he has received the backing of the club’s owners all season, he was less confident in his post-game press conference.

“I don’t think about this,” Ten Hag said when asked about his future. “I’m in a project and we are exactly where we want to be. We’re constructing a team. When I took over it was a mess at United, and we are on our way to construct a team for the future.

“The team is developing, the team is winning and the team also plays to an identity. What you need to play is to be available, you need a strong squad in top football, and especially when you play in England, the Premier League is so competitive.”


Garnacho and Mainoo were two of United’s bright sparks in a disappointing season in which they finished a worst-ever eighth in the Premier League era.

The 19-year-olds were in fine form at a sun-drenched Wembley and after the final whistle defender Lisandro Martinez hoisted a grinning Ten Hag into the air to celebrate.

“We are delighted for the manager,” midfielder Scott McTominay said.


Ten Hag, who kissed the trophy before lifting it in front of the United fans, became the first manager to beat Pep Guardiola’s City in a major domestic final and ended their 35-game unbeaten run in open play.

“It is a glorious feeling to win the FA Cup final at Wembley,” said United co-owner Jim Ratcliffe.


“Manchester United clearly were not the favourites to win today but they played with total commitment and skill and overcame one of the great teams in football. We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them.”

In Ten Hag’s two seasons in charge, United have played in three Wembley finals and lifted two trophies (they won last season’s League Cup). If sacking after such a positive finale seems implausible, however, there is precedent.

Louis Van Gaal was fired two days after United’s 2-1 FA Cup win over Crystal Palace in 2016 after the team finished fifth in the Premier League.

“We have to keep going, and I’m not satisfied with it, we have to do better and if they don’t want me anymore, then I go anywhere else to win trophies, because that is what I did my whole career,” Ten Hag said. “That is what they always tell me.”

Guardiola had kind words for United’s manager.


“(United) have to take a decision. So, I don’t know but of course he’s a lovely person, an extraordinary manager,” Guardiola said.

Ten Hag’s press conference ended abruptly when a reporter pointed out that eighth in the Premier League was not good enough for United.

“Sorry to say this, but you don’t have any knowledge about football, about managing a football team,” Ten Hag said. “When you don’t have the players available, then you can’t perform, so simple as that.

“And if that is the opinion, it is no problem. Then I go anywhere else and I go and keep winning trophies.”



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FA Cup

Erik ten Hag now finds his voice, “you can’t sack me, he tells Man United



Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has issued a defiant response in the wake of reports claiming that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the club hierarchy have already decided to sack him.

According to UK publication, Mirror, Erik ten Hag has warned the Manchester United hierarchy he will ‘go and win trophies somewhere else’ if he isn’t wanted.

The Dutchman’s position is understood to be in major jeopardy after overseeing the club’s worst league campaign in over 30 years, although he did end the season with a flourish by beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

Reports on Friday, however, suggested that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the club’s top brass have already decided to replace the former Ajax chief – and that even winning the FA Cup would not be enough for Ten Hag to save his job.

But in the aftermath of United’s big win at Wembley, a defiant Ten Hag fired back when he was quizzed over the latest reports relating to his future.


Speaking in his post-match press conference, Ten Hag said of rumours the club will sack him: “If they don’t want me any more, I go somewhere else and win trophies, that’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

It’s been outlined this week that the club have been sounding out potential replacements for Ten Hag with other clubs, notably Chelsea, in the market for a new manager this summer.

Sky Sports claimed that former Manchester United  coach Kieran McKenna’s representatives have already held talks with the club after the Northern Irishman guided Ipswich Town to successive promotions.

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FA Cup

Against all odds, Man Utd win FA Cup



FA Cup - Final - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - May 25, 2024 Manchester United's Lisandro Martinez and manager Erik ten Hag celebrate after winning the FA Cup REUTERS/Hannah Mcka

Manchester United have won the FA Cup after a 2-1 win against city rivals, Manchester City.

The two Manchester clubs have reached the final of England’s oldest cup competition again and City were hoping to retain the trophy after winning last year’s final.

Pep Guardiola’s side had won the last three meetings between City and United and the Reds approached the FA Cup final as underdogs again – but the game didn’t go as most predicted.

Against all odds, United claimed a stunning victory against City thanks to first-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo, which proved enough for the win.

United were outstanding and looked like a different team after a dismal season. Erik ten Hag’s tactics worked perfectly and City only started to threaten late in the second half.


Jeremy Doku provided City with a glimmer of hope in the dying moments of the match by finding the bottom corner, but it wasn’t enough and the Blues slumped to a defeat.

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