Erling Haaland - The Greatest Player of All Time?

Updated by Greg Lea verified symbol on November 30, 2022

Earling Halaand the Greatest Player of All Time at 22?

Erling Haaland has had an incredible start to his Manchester City career. His first 18 games for the club have yielded 23 goals. He has been particularly prolific in the Premier League, having found the back of the net 18 times in his first 13 appearances since his summer switch from Borussia Dortmund.

Even more remarkable is the fact that Haaland is still only 22 years old. In theory at least, he is not even at his peak. That is a scary thought for defenders who could be coming up against the Norway international for another decade and a half.

Haaland has scored more goals by the age of 22 than both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo managed. Is he already the greatest player of all time? The answer to that question is, quite simply, no. But could he become the best we have ever seen? It is certainly possible.

There is no doubt that Haaland has had an extraordinary start to his career. At his first club Byrne, he scored 18 goals in 30 matches. A spell at Norwegian giants Molde brought 20 goals in 50 outings before Haaland notched 29 in 27 games for Red Bull Salzburg.

Every time he has moved up a level, the striker has adapted and flourished. It was the same when he joined Borussia Dortmund, for whom he scored 86 times in 89 encounters across two and a half years. He is now demonstrating his quality in the Premier League with City.

Championship League

Even if we focus solely on his appearances at the very highest level, Haaland’s exploits are outstanding. In just 23 Champions League games, he has scored 28 goals. He has already beaten the records of iconic forwards like Hernan Crespo, Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez in that competition throughout their entire careers.

Haaland scored his 20th Champions League goal in his 14th match in the tournament. Previously, Harry Kane was the fastest to that milestone, but it took the England captain 24 games to score for the 20th time in Europe’s premier competition. Haaland is scoring goals at a rate we have never seen before.

How Does Erling Compare to Other Footballing Greats?

Nevertheless, there is a long way to go before we can consider the 22-year-old in the conversation for the greatest of all time. He has not yet won a title in any of Europe’s top five leagues. And Haaland is not the first player to have dazzled at a young age.

Ronaldo made an astonishing impact when he first broke through in the 1990s. Pele won a World Cup with Brazil before his 18th birthday. Wayne Rooney wowed Premier League audiences with his early showings for Everton and Manchester United. Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and George Best all stood out as precocious talents from a very young age, and continued in that vein for years to come.

We should also remember that players do not all develop at the same pace. Some show remarkable promise in their early years before fading away. Witness the rise and fall of Dele Alli, who was tipped as a future world-beater during his first few seasons at Tottenham Hotspur but is now playing in Turkey at the age of 26.

It is hard to work out why Alli has suffered such a dramatic downturn. With other players, it is easier to diagnose where things went wrong. Injuries often play a big part. Michael Owen was a genuine sensation at Liverpool, where he won the Ballon d’Or at the age of 22. But persistent fitness problems robbed him of his pace, and he was not the same player again.

Ronaldo had a fantastic career but could have achieved even more had he not suffered such bad fortune with his knees. He was still a top-class center-forward at Real Madrid, for example. Still, by then, he had lost the explosiveness that characterised his game in that sensational single season at Barcelona, when the Brazilian scored 47 goals in 49 matches.

No one would want the same fate to befall Haaland, but it cannot be ruled out. Although Ronaldo is widely regarded as one of the top 20 footballers of all time, he rarely makes the top five. Were it not for injuries, that might be different. Similarly, if Haaland was to lose the pace and power that makes him such a tough customer for defenders to handle, he would not be the same player.

Other Factors to Consider

Goals are not the only consideration either. Of course, they form a significant part of the judgment around who the greatest of all time is. But to reduce a player like Lionel Messi to one statistic does not do him justice. The Argentine has always done much more than put the ball in the net. His dribbling, passing, and footballing intelligence are equally important to understanding his genius.

Similarly, any account of Cristiano Ronaldo’s tremendous career must include the nature of the goals he scored, not just the amount of them. There is nothing to suggest that Haaland is incapable of performing in the biggest moments - Champions League semi-finals, league title deciders - but we have to wait and see how he does when the spotlight is shining brightest before proclaiming him to be one of the greatest ever.

Another factor that could count against Haaland, albeit unfairly, is his nationality. It will be much harder for him ever to win a World Cup or European Championship than it would be for a German, Brazilian, Italian, Argentinian etc. However, multiple triumphs in the Champions League would probably make up for that. 

Time Will Tell

There is no consensus on who the greatest player of all time is, which is just as well because the debates are a fascinating part of football discourse. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele and Diego Maradona make up most people’s top four, albeit in different orders. Perhaps in 20 years Haaland will have joined that elite group. Until then, let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Greg is a seasoned sports fan and football journalist, and has been giving his expert analysis of games for the last few years. With industry experience and knowledge, he aims to provide top-quality writing, game predictions and team roundups to help you make the best bets on your next game.
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