Cristiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi are both undoubtedly some of the greatest footballers of our generation. But with new talent muscling their way in, and starting to smash records, can we still call them the “greatest?”
We’re going to get straight to our point: Erling Braut Haaland. We’ve already discussed how the Norwegian goalscoring machine is well on his way to becoming the next Zlatan, but following what appears to be an effortless adoption to the English Premier League (arguably the most difficult football league in the world to assert dominance) Haaland is already proving how he could have one of the greatest football careers of any player. Ever.
Haaland completed a £51 million move from Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund to Premier League heavyweights Manchester City before the 2022-23 season kicked off, a figure that now seems like an absolute steal (considering English defender Harry Maguire set Manchester United back £70 million).
Since Haaland made his move, he has already clocked up 19 goals in all competitions from 12 appearances. 9 of those goals have come via three hat tricks (two in consecutive games) during Premier League meet-ups against Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace and club rivals Manchester United. This in itself is an incredible feat, as he only needed 8 Premier League games to achieve the stunning stat. The previous record holder, Michael Owen, took 48 games to score three hat tricks for former club, Liverpool FC.
How many goals has Haaland scored?
So far in his playing career, Haaland has netted 174 goals in all competitions from 212 appearances. This includes his days playing for Norwegian clubs Bryne and Molde (and the reserve teams for both), Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.
But, to put Haaland’s ridiculous talent into a context that’s a little easier to understand and visualise, Sky Sports released an infographic showing how many goals he has scored in his first 100 European League, games compared to some of the sport’s biggest names.
Haaland holds the record with 103 goals in 100 appearances. In comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo netted just 16 goals in the same period. Lionel Messi fares a little better with 41 goals in his first 100 European League games. Some of the beautiful game’s former greats have cemented their legendary status, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy netting 77 goals in 100 games and Brazilian Ronaldo racking up 86.
Haaland vs Messi and Ronaldo
Of course, Haaland’s early dominance in the Premier League isn’t guaranteed to be sustainable for his entire career. There’s also the potential of injury (as there is for anyone). The more he runs rings around defenders, the more those defenders could become agitated and they may lash out (albeit unintentionally), sending Haaland to the emergency room and into rehab.
At the time of writing, while Haaland may have bagged himself a string of hat tricks in unbelievably quick time compared to Ronaldo and Messi, he’s not necessarily destined to continue his strong run of form.
What makes Ronaldo and Messi so great?
It’s not just a player’s ability to score goals that get tongues wagging with the term “greatest ever,” but their natural ability on the ball and how they can influence their team. As Bleacher Report says, each decade has its standout player: “One thinks of Pele in the 1960s, Johan Cruyff in the 1970s, Maradona in the 1980s and so on.” The publication also points out, “The Messi vs. Ronaldo rivalry is a singular occurrence. Never have the careers of football’s greatest players coincided.”
“Messi—as Barca was in its prime with Andres Iniesta and Xavi—is an incredible message to send out, a reminder that football can be played and made sublime even if you’re small and not particularly power-built. They’re the minnows,” said Diego Maradona’s biographer Jimmy Burns, “That’s an attractive thing compared to the image of Ronaldo. He’s got this extraordinary, perfect beauty of face and extraordinary sculptured body. It’s almost like it’s come out of a computer.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said (via ESPN): “What he has done — how he scores, how he moves, his incredible instinct to know when the ball is coming — I have never taught him anything. He got all that from his parents.”
With Messi and Ronaldo commanding headlines for much of the 2000’s thus far, is Haaland the man to take the baton and show what a truly great footballer can really do?