The Leeds first team has to be my goal
The Leeds first team has to be my goal
Niklas Haugland from Bergen, Norway, is just one of many Norwegian youngsters who have been picked up by foreign clubs over the last year. After several trials around the continent, he made his decision to sign for Leeds United. We here at NF Academy are passionate about providing Scandinavian talents the best possible opportunities and a shot at a career abroad, and gave Haugland a call to hear his thoughts on life at the academy where many Premier League regulars started their careers.
The 17 year old started his career as a youth player at SK Brann, and after putting on some impressive displays in cup games, he caught the attention of several foreign clubs. His agent, Stig Lillejord, contacted Feyenoord to arrange for a trial, but SK Brann did not want to lose their player and blocked the possible transfer. Niklas took matters into his own hands, and together with his agent, he decided a transfer to Fana IL would be the right decision.
During this period, there was talk of trials with several clubs around Europe, but Brann would not let me go. It’s not every day you get chances like that, so I transfered to Fana IL, who would let me train with other clubs. I stayed with Fana for about a year, before I signed for Leeds U18 in 2018.»
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At Fana IL, Haugland was given the opportunity to consider his offers while at the same time playing regularly for both their U19 and first team. The year with Fana was a hectic one, with trials at a handful of clubs across Europe. Haugland represented RB Salzburg at Istria Youth Cup, the Champions League for youth players, where he got to play against teams such as Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Against the latter, Haugland impressed so much that «Die Roten» also wanted to give him a trial. Around the same time, his agent arranged for trials at both AC Milan and Frankfurt, so that Niklas could experience different environments and be sure to choose the right club for him.
There were a few obstacles during these trials. At Bayern, no one spoke English, which made life off the field a bit boring and challenging. At other clubs, the academy didn’t seem to be a priority. With that said, trialing abroad is a tremendous learning experience. In addition to training sessions and the facilities being at a higher level than back home, you learn to integrate yourself to both different clubs and player groups. If it weren’t for these trials, I don’t think I would have had the guts to go for it when Leeds came knocking. I liked the head coach, could communicate with everyone and had a lot of fun, so it was an easy choice.
Gets to train with the first team
Everyday life at Leeds’ training ground differs from what Haugland was used to back in Norway. Four days a week, he reports for two training sessions, in addition to strength training and of course meals and socializing with the rest of the team. Some days, he even gets to train with the first team.
I usually get picked up at half past eight, and arrive at the academy for some breakfast before a tough session. After lunch, I usually hang out with team mates before the second, more specialized session. Modern players have to be able to adapt and understand several roles, so even though I consider myself a striker, I learn to be a more complete attacker. About a month ago, me and two other got moved up to the U23 team. Days there are shorter, but the sessions are tougher. Additionally, the first team is training at the same time as us, so occasionally Bielsa’s assistent will call us over for a few short exercises. We get to join in on possession, finishing and 11 a sides. The first team players give us some good advice too, so that’s fun and really helps with our development.
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The first team should not be out of reach
Leeds United has produced many of the players we are used to see in action in the Premier League over the last 20 years, but Haugland does not feel any pressure. The plan going forward is clear, with smaller, reachable goals to reach before there will be any talk of playing for the first team.
When I see how young players manage to develop and get their first team debut, I see it’s not impossible to follow in their shoes. There is still a way to go, but that has to be my goal. Right now, I am mainly focused on establishing myself in the U23 team and keep focus on my own development and the work I have to put in. Occasionally, I get called up for the national team too, so that’s fun, but also very demanding.
Here at NF Academy, we are no strangers to Niklas. In 2015, he was invited to one of our training camps in Portugal, where he also participated in a tournament.
I represented NF Academy’s U13 team. That was great! We got to the quarter final, where we lost against Sporting CP on penalties. Going out of the tournament like that is never fun, but the setup and camp was great, with very good coaches!
Haugland has no doubt in his mind that going abroad is benefitial to young players who aim to become professional, and has the following advice for young players approaching their first trial or call up to the national team.
At foreign clubs, the training sessions, coaches and whole set up is just a whole lot better. In Norway, we don’t have actual academies, while here we have coaches who are specialized in developing talent and get them to perform at top level. If you want to go far, there has to be some talent there, but what’s most important is your attitude and willingness to put in the required work. When it comes to your first call up, don’t be so serious about everything. Just make sure to have fun, do your best and your feet will do the talking!»
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