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Look Out, Messi: Erling Haaland Is Coming For Your 50-Goal Club

After Erling Haaland scored twice in his first league game after the World Cup break, one British newspaper described him as “Head and shoulders above the rest.” It was a reference to the Norwegian’s striking long blond hair and a popular shampoo brand. Ever since he signed with Manchester City last summer, there’s no better way to capture how much Haaland has dominated English football.

While the reigning English Premier League champions have yet to storm to their third consecutive league title — City trails this season’s surprise team, Arsenal, by five points with 18 games left to play — Haaland has, on an individual level, more than justified the fear opposing managers felt when a player with his combination of size (he’s 6-foot-3), speed and skill arrived from German side Borussia Dortmund. Entering the new season, the main question was how large the forward’s scoring tally would be. Some said he’d break Andy Cole and Alan Shearer’s single-season EPL record of 34. Others went further and predicted 40.

Few, if any, went on record saying he’d eclipse 50. But after 19 games, Haaland has already netted 25 goals. Among the EPL records he’s already broken include: quickest player to score 10 goals (six games); quickest player to score three hat tricks (eight games); fastest player to 20 goals (13 games) and only player to ever score 20 times before January, despite this season containing a six-week break for the World Cup. With 18 games to go, he’s currently on pace for a previously-unheard-of-in-English-football 49 if he plays all of City’s remaining matches and maintains his per-game rate of scoring.

Haaland is on pace to absolutely shatter the EPL scoring record

All individual seasons with 30-plus goals in English Premier League history, plus Erling Haaland’s prorated full-season pace for 2022-23

Player Season Team Goals
Erling Haaland* 2022-23 Man City 49
Andrew Cole 1993-94 Newcastle 34
Alan Shearer 1994-95 Blackburn 34
Mohamed Salah 2017-18 Liverpool 32
Cristiano Ronaldo 2007-08 Man United 31
Alan Shearer 1993-94 Blackburn 31
Alan Shearer 1995-96 Blackburn 31
Luis Suarez 2013-14 Liverpool 31
Thierry Henry 2003-04 Arsenal 30
Robin van Persie 2011-12 Arsenal 30
Kevin Phillips 1999-00 Sunderland 30
Harry Kane 2017-18 Tottenham 30

*Prorated to a full season of 38 team games, assuming Haaland plays all of Man City’s remaining games and maintains his per-game pace of goal scoring.


Whenever Haaland touches the ball — or is even near it — defenders throughout the league are on high alert for potential embarrassment. Surrounded by some of the world’s most gifted playmakers — Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, to name just three — the 50-goal mark is not out of the question this season.

And it’s not just English records Haaland has in his path of destruction, either. Looking at the best single-season totals ever in Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1, Haaland is quickly climbing the combined record books of Europe’s Big Five leagues. If the Norwegian forward continues at his current strike rate, only Lionel Messi’s mesmerizing 50-goal La Liga campaign for Barcelona in the 2011-12 season will stand in his way for the most in the Big Five leagues’ history.

Only Messi’s 50 may stand above Haaland’s goal tally

All individual seasons with 40-plus goals in the Big Five European leagues, plus Erling Haaland’s prorated full-season pace for 2022-23

Player Season Team League Goals
Lionel Messi 2011-12 Barcelona La Liga 50
Erling Haaland* 2022-23 Man City Premier League 49
Cristiano Ronaldo 2014-15 Real Madrid La Liga 48
Cristiano Ronaldo 2011-12 Real Madrid La Liga 46
Lionel Messi 2012-13 Barcelona La Liga 46
Lionel Messi 2014-15 Barcelona La Liga 43
Robert Lewandowski 2020-21 Bayern Munich Bundesliga 41
Cristiano Ronaldo 2010-11 Real Madrid La Liga 40
Luis Suarez 2015-16 Barcelona La Liga 40

*Prorated to a full season of 38 team games, assuming Haaland plays all of Man City’s remaining games and maintains his per-game pace of goal scoring.


What makes Haaland’s inaugural EPL campaign even more outstanding, though, is that he’s doing it at just 22 years old. Messi was 24 when he scored 50 and had spent the previous seven seasons building rapport with Barcelona’s first team. When Cristiano Ronaldo netted 48 times for Real Madrid three seasons later, he was 29 and well into his prime. Then there’s the fact that Haaland is doing this in a league regarded as the richest — the EPL is forecast to generate €7.1 billion this season, almost double that of second-place La Liga, according to Statista — and best in the world — English teams have performed best in UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League in the past three seasons, according to UEFA’s Country coefficients.

Similar to Messi and Ronaldo before him, Haaland will forever be compared to a contemporary star: Kylian Mbappé. The French phenom burst onto the scene in the 2016-17 season, when he helped Monaco win its first league title in almost two decades with 15 goals as a 17-year-old. PSG then shelled out £166 million to make him the most expensive teenager ever, and the second-most expensive player in the world. So far in his already illustrious career, Mbappé has won five Ligue 1 titles, three French Cups and the 2018 FIFA World Cup with France. After his hat trick in the 2022 FIFA World Cup final last month, the 24-year-old is generally considered as the best in the world.

Haaland’s trophy cabinet is a lot emptier by comparison — Haaland won the Austrian Bundesliga and Austrian Cup with RB Salzburg, and the German Cup with Dortmund. But in terms of individual scoring prowess, it’s Haaland who has been most clinical in front of goal to start his career, compared with any of his three peers.

Haaland’s career start has him ahead of his rivals

Most goals per game in domestic league, Champions League and international competitions through a player’s age-22 season for Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

Player League Champions Lg. International Total Tot. Gms Goals/Gm
Haaland 112 28 21 161 170 0.95
Mbappé 134 29 19 182 262 0.69
Messi 88 25 13 126 238 0.53
Ronaldo 69 11 20 100 282 0.35


As Haaland continues to assault the record books, it’s fitting the man leading him toward the game’s pinnacle is the same manager who guided Messi to the top. Pep Guardiola is a serial winner — the Spaniard won 14 trophies with Barcelona, seven with Bayern Munich, and in Manchester he has 11 and counting. More so, Guardiola has taken countless players with strong potential and made them elite. At Barcelona, aside from Messi, Pep helped the likes of Andres Iniesta and current Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez take their games to the next level. At Bayern, he did the same with Robert Lewandowski. And now at City, De Bruyne, Rodri and João Cancelo have all become arguably the best in the world at their position.

But with Haaland, Guardiola has arguably his most advanced player of all at such a young age. As one more measure of his greatness, Haaland took just 20 games to score 25 goals under Guardiola — the quickest to do so, in eight fewer games than Messi. Perhaps the scariest factor of all is how great Haaland might end up becoming under Pep when he becomes even more polished.

Haaland’s ascent isn’t totally limitless. His country’s lack of international success might end up becoming Haaland’s kryptonite in the GOAT debate. The world just witnessed how Messi’s World Cup triumph with Argentina may have cemented his place above Ronaldo, Pelé and Diego Maradona. But Norway, on the other hand, has qualified for only three of the 22 FIFA World Cups — the most recent coming in 1998 before Haaland was even born — and has made just one of the 16 UEFA European Championships. That said, if Haaland can somehow drag his nation to the latter stages of a major tournament, it could be his greatest achievement — aside from the assault he’s currently conducting on the Premier League’s record books.

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Daniel Levitt is a former sports intern with FiveThirtyEight. He now runs the journalism newsletter and job board Inside The Newsroom.


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