Football is a numbers game and Erling Haaland is winning it. Since Manchester City signed their star striker in the summer he has already bagged the record for the fewest games to reach 15 Premier League goals (nine), the youngest player to net 25 goals in the Champions League (22 years, 47 days) and become the first man to score hat tricks in three consecutive Premier League home games.
Another noteworthy number is 6,000. No, not the amount of goals the Norwegian is forecast to score before he retires, but how many calories he consumes each day. That vast intake — more than double the recommended daily amount for men — is made up not from the lean foods typical of elite athletes, but Chinese takeaways, kebabs and offal.
“I am concerned with taking care of my body,” Haaland reveals in Haaland: The Big Decision, a new Norwegian TV documentary available on YouTube. As he says this, he walks into his living room showing off vacuum-packed bags of hearts and livers. “Eating quality food that is as local as possible is the most important thing. A lot of things influence health. For example, people talk about meat not being healthy: which meat? The meat you get at McDonald’s? Or the local cow eating grass right over there?”
Offal — such as hearts, livers, intestines and brains — are, pound for pound, more nutritious than muscle meats and are packed with iron, B vitamins and zinc. But butchers’ offcuts are not good for everybody.
“If cholesterol is a problem for someone, you wouldn’t recommend any red meat,” says Jason Jackson, a personal trainer and nutritionist who works with Millwall FC’s academy. “If you don’t have high cholesterol, then that would be fine.”
While 6,000 calories sounds a lot, the equivalent of seven and a half Wetherspoon breakfasts, the 6ft 5in Leeds-born striker needs as much energy as he can get. Jackson says that elite athletes like Haaland burn as many as six times more calories than the average man and he would advise him to eat at least 58 percent more calories than an amateur to get him to the end of games.
“Carb-loading is always a good idea for elite athletes,” says Jackson. Swimmer Michael Phelps revealed during the 2008 Olympics that he ate up to 12,000 calories each day, while Usain Bolt famously clinched 100m sprint gold while having 100 McDonald’s chicken nuggets a day at the Beijing Games.
When he is not cooking for himself, or having his personal chef rustle up a meal, Haaland’s favorite restaurant is said to be Wen Hua House, the Chinese restaurant in his hometown of Bryne, in southwest Norway, run by Hui Zhu Wang and her husband, Yang, since 1999. The Haalands have been regular visitors for two decades. The footballer’s grandmother, Tone, taught the couple how to speak Norwegian after they migrated from Shanghai in the early 1990s. “It’s very special to see someone be so dedicated to what he loves to do,” Hui Zhu, 64, says in translation by her daughter, Jenni, 31. “The success he has achieved in the last couple of years makes it very special when he comes to visit.”
Oslo-based IT consultant Jenni says the family restaurant is “nothing fancy, it is a very low-key, cozy Chinese restaurant”. Haaland has elevated it by giving his signed shirts to Hui Zhu to hang on the walls.
The last time he visited the restaurant was during the summer, after sealing his $57 million move to Manchester from German side Borussia Dortmund. Though he is said to now earn more than $900,000 per week, Haaland visited with his childhood friends and enjoyed his usual sweet and sour chicken. The dish typically has more than 1,000 calories per portion.
Usain Bolt famously clinched 100m sprint gold while having 100 McDonald’s chicken nuggets a day.
His other indulgence is an unlikely combination: kebab pizzas from Yummy Time in Bryne. “I really like kebab. I love it,” Haaland said recently. “I eat it a couple of times a year when I’m in my hometown — I almost never eat it, but it’s still my favorite food.”
Haaland’s secret weapon in the Premier League appears to be pasta-based, however. Since he arrived in England his father, former Manchester City and Leeds United midfielder Alf-Inge, 49, has cooked lasagna before he plays. “I’ve had it before every home game and that’s turned out fairly well for me in every game,” Haaland said after thumping three goals against Manchester United earlier this month. “There has to be something special he adds to it.”
Despite his love of food, Haaland is not much of a chef himself. “I help out very little. I mostly lie on the couch watching him,” he says. “That’s the way it works.”
Jackson suggests the tradition of eating lasagna before home games may be more important as a psychological rather than a physiological boost. “Who’s to say that this ‘lucky lasagna’ doesn’t have a winning effect on his mentality?” he says. “Track runners do static stretching, which limits force production. But when you disrupt their routine they perform worse. Maybe this lasagna has lucky properties as a pre-match ritual.”
Opposition teams: if you want to stop Haaland, maybe you just have to prevent him getting his favorite dinner. It may be your only hope.
Liam Kelly is an arts-and-entertainment correspondent, covering everything from books and TV to film and theater for The Sunday Times of London