Erling Haaland v Kylian Mbappe for best footballer of the 2020s? Bring it on
There’s been a lot of talk over the past few days about the changing of the guard. That conversation needs to include Erling Haaland after another match-winning performance in Europe.
In a Champions League week where both Barcelona and Juventus were comprehensively outplayed and beaten, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo having minimal impact, column inches have been filled with excited chatter about who will define the next decade of elite football.
Two standout candidates have emerged. Kylian Mbappe, after a hat-trick at the Camp Nou and leaving Gerard Pique grasping at his shirt in the manner of a pensioner trying to stop the Road Runner, has reinforced his claim to greatness, finally providing the Air Jordanification of PSG with its first Last Dance moment.
A World Cup winner at 19, an age where most of us are downing Jagerbombs in grotty student bars, Mbappe seemed to have a clear run at the Ballon d’Or for years to come.
Yet a younger challenger has emerged. One who is directly motivated by the France international to push himself to new heights.
Speaking after scoring two goals during a match-winning performance at Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland told reporters: “I love the Champions League and when I saw Mbappe score the hat-trick yesterday I got free motivation, so thanks to him.”
Not that Haaland needs such motivation. He has netted 18 goals in his first 13 Champions League matches, including 10 in seven for Dortmund.
He has scored against all eight opponents he has faced in the competition, inspiring the sort of terror among defenders reminiscent of a coop of chickens discovering the presence of a deadly fox in their midst.
There’s a certain beautiful brutality to Haaland’s game, with raw power married to silky footwork. Speed has no impact on his ability to coordinate his feet, meaning Haaland can charge past opponents at 4,389mph with the skill of a burglar picking a lock.
His first in Seville illustrated this point perfectly. Faced with Haaland stampeding forward, midfielder Joan Jordan stood little chance of stopping him and wisely choose not too. It is only football, after all.
The subsequent one-two with Jadon Sancho was exquisitely executed, leaving the Norway striker to finish the cold-blooded certainty of an assassin. It really was the perfect marriage of physical and technical prowess that wasn’t a million miles away from the Wayne Rooney we all fell in love with.
"It had to happen, didn't it?!"
Erling Haaland turns the game around for Dortmund in Seville.
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 17, 2021
With every passing game and goal, the chances of Haaland staying at Borussia Dortmund recede even further. As the team itself fluctuates between brilliance and implosion, often in the same match, the club are reported to be in financial difficulties and talents such as Haaland, Sancho and Gio Reyna are reportedly up for sale.
Word of a £68million release clause for the striker has been circulating for weeks. The mind boggles at the bidding war that would ensue between Europe’s superclubs for Haaland’s signature, with each interested party debasing themselves in ways not seen since England tried to convince FIFA to let them host the 2018 World Cup.
But securing Haaland is the biggest no-brainer of the current market. Yes, the fee is likely to be astronomical, but you would guaranteed goals on a mind-bogglingly consistent basis.
If injuries do not diminish him, and he makes the correct career choices, Haaland will rival Mbappe for the title of Messi and Ronaldo’s heir.
We suggest you plump up your cushions, settle down with some popcorn, and watch this monstrously talented man-child flourish.
By Michael Lee