With Lionel Messi on his way to Inter Miami and Cristiano Ronaldo already in Saudi Arabia, it’s time for football’s next global superstar to emerge.
Step forward Erling Haaland, the Norwegian goal machine who has smashed his way through defenses in a record-breaking first season with Manchester City.
Standing 6-foot-4 with flowing blond locks, the striker is a daunting sight, with devastating power and pace to go with his precision in front of goal.
Youngsters including the son of teammate Kevin De Bruyne are emulating Haaland’s hairstyle.
“They all have hair like that,” De Bruyne told Belgian broadcaster VTM this week.
Image is one thing, but it is Haaland’s prowess on the field that is propelling him to the top of the sport.
Perhaps only Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid winger Vinicius Junior can challenge the 22-year-old Haaland to the title of the world’s best in the post-Messi and Ronaldo era.
On Saturday, Haaland could fire City to its first Champions League title and a historic treble of trophies after winning the Premier League and FA Cup in a season in which he has exceeded all expectations after signing from Borussia Dortmund last summer.
His goal-scoring talents were already well known. European giants Real Madrid and Manchester United were among his admirers.
But his feats at City have defied belief at times and set new standards in England’s top flight.
With 36 goals in the Premier League, he set a new benchmark in the division by breaking the record of 34, which was jointly held by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer. It had stood for 29 years.
He scored 52 in all competitions, including six hat tricks.
Haaland’s five goals against Leipzig in the Champions League matched the record held by Messi and Luiz Adriano for the most in a single game in European football’s top club competition.
He also became the fastest and youngest player to reach 30 Champions League goals.
“His mentality is to score more, more,” City manager Pep Guardiola said.
While he will likely be the player Inter Milan fears most in Saturday’s final in Istanbul, Haaland is on something of a scoring drought heading into the game.
Just one goal in his last seven matches represents his worst run for five years, dating back to when he was still establishing himself at Norwegian team Molde.
That recent dry spell, however, has done nothing to shake the sense that he is one of the few players capable of taking over from Messi and Ronaldo as football’s next global icon. And at 22, he is still developing his game.
“I am still young. I can improve a lot and I am at the perfect place, to work with the best coach and players in the world,” he said, describing Guardiola as a “detail freak.... There (are) always things you can get better at.”
Haaland’s all-round game has improved after developing more of an understanding with his City teammates. He was outstanding, for instance, in the 4-0 win against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals, despite not getting on the scoresheet.
Just as Messi and Ronaldo’s rivalry helped drive them to even greater heights — sharing 12 Ballon d’Or trophies between them — Haaland’s primary competition for the title of the world’s No. 1 football player is likely to come from Mbappe and Vinicius. But while Haaland may not have their finesse or intricate footwork, his raw power, athleticism and scoring instinct sets him apart.
The greatest players, however, are judged by the trophies they win. Messi’s World Cup triumph with Argentina in December has, for many, settled the debate as to who is the greatest out of him and Ronaldo, who has never won the competition.
Haaland is already playing catch-up in terms of trophies in comparison to Mbappe and Vinicius. But he’s one game away from adding the Champions League to his Premier League and FA Cup collection.
Mbappe, a World Cup winner with France in 2018, is still to triumph in the Champions League.
Brazil star Vinicius won it last year with Madrid.
Given Haaland is unlikely to win major honors with Norway, club titles and personal records are likely to be his chance of establishing himself ahead of Mbappe and Vinicius as the best of his generation.
He feels like the final piece of the puzzle for Guardiola in the coach’s pursuit of the Champions League title.
Having won it twice as coach of Barcelona with Messi, Guardiola has repeatedly come up short in the competition since then.
“The Premier League, they won it two times in a row before I came here,” Haaland said. “So they know how to win the Premier League. The only thing they miss now is the Champions League, you can think and read between the words, and the lines, I have been coming here for a reason.”
While Mbappe and Vinicius present the potential for a long-term rivalry, Messi likely provides the biggest challenge to Haaland if he is to win the Ballon d’Or this year.
Argentina’s World Cup success could land Messi the accolade of the world’s best player for a record-extending eighth time. A Champions League trophy for Haaland might change that.
Either way, Haaland looks likely to be a contender for many years to come.
Not that filling Messi’s shoes will be an easy task.
Even Haaland’s remarkable feats this season have fallen short of Messi’s most prolific campaign when he scored 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona in 2011-12, including 50 in the Spanish league.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored 61 for Real Madrid in 2014-15.
Perhaps that is why Haaland was coy when recently asked if he was now the best goal-scorer in the world.
“I don’t want to answer that. I think someone else should answer that,” Haaland told the BBC. “But I scored most goals this season, I think, so that’s a good start.”
- Manuel Neuer returns to training with Bayern Munich after leg injury
- Buchi Babu tournament: Shahrukh Khan fifty gives TNCA XI control over Bengal on day 2
- U Mumba adds four defenders to the squad under PKL’s New Young Players initiative
- Catch him if you can: Verstappen poised to make F1 history at “Temple of Speed”
- Pakistan court quashes sedition case against Imran Khan