“Underwhelming”, reckoned The Sun, registering a consensus among the British media at their first sight of Erling Haaland in action for Manchester City in England. An “unimpressive bow”, “inauspicious” wrote The Independent about the new, feted centre-forward after he squandered two goalscoring chances in a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in the 2022-23 season’s curtain-raiser - the Community Shield.
Through the debris of so many broken records and from the towering heights of an unprecedented City treble, Haaland and his club can look back on that tepid start with a wry smile. As City prepare to take on Arsenal this weekend in another Community Shield clash, the questions, 12 months on, are no longer about how quickly Haaland fits in but how rapidly he zooms past even more statistical landmarks.
His first season in England turned out spectacularly well. Having drawn a blank on his official City debut, Haaland would wait until mid-October until he next went through a game without at least a goal or an assist.
Thirty-six minutes into his opening Premier League game, against West Ham United, he had his first competitive strike after his €60m move from Borussia Dortmund and, by the end of that afternoon, the first of his six braces so far for City. There would also be five Haaland hat-tricks and, gloriously, five goals in a single evening against RB Leipzig during the heady journey to City’s maiden European Cup triumph.
All told, Haaland scored 52 times – and directly assisted nine more goals – in his 53 matches. If there were occasional mutterings about his low number of touches of the ball in a team that so values possession, those who dwelt on them soon sounded as if they were splitting hairs. “He will make defenders’ lives in England horrible,” Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk had forecast amid the praise being rained on the Dutch centre-back for having marked Haaland so effectively in that Community Shield. A year on, it is assumed he will torture his markers every weekend and impose the same difficulty on defenders across Europe in midweek.
Meanwhile Haaland’s peers, the elite strikers who aspire to set lasting records, go into the new season looking anxiously over their shoulders. To call Haaland the best centre-forward at work in English football might seem presumptuous at his tender 23 years old. But the claim really pauses only when Harry Kane’s case is considered.
Yet Kane, the long-time leader of a less-talented Tottenham Hotspur squad than City’s, may no longer be on the English domestic landscape by the end of this month, pursued as he is by Bayern Munich. Should he join the German champions, a Kane-versus-Haaland comparison would become more layered. During his Dortmund spell, spanning two and half years from late teenage to just shy of turning 22, Haaland scored 86 goals at a rate of a goal every 84 minutes; his City strike-rate is even better. Kane would need to be sensational at Bayern – and up his overall Premier League rate by 30-odd per cent – to be as prolific as Haaland was at Dortmund.
Soon enough, Haaland will likely start reeling in some of the milestones set by his stellar near-contemporary, Kylian Mbappe, for prodigious accomplishments. Mbappe, 24, has scored 40 Champions League goals since debuting in the competition in 2016. Haaland, who made his Champions League bow with a hat-trick for RB Salzburg in 2019, needs five more goals in Europe’s principal club competition to catch up with Mbappe.
As things stand it would not be bold to predict him doing so by October. Last season, Haaland hit 12 goals in as many European games for City; his 35 Champions League goals for all his clubs have come at a rate of one every 66 minutes. And this summer, Mbappe – who took 61 matches to reach his 40 goals – has been estranged from his club, Paris Saint-Germain’s first-team practice, part of a stand-off between PSG and the player over his refusal to extend a contract which expires in 2024. He is effectively for sale, leaving open the question of for whom – or even whether – he plays Champions League football this autumn.
There are, of course, imponderables, possible hitches that might put a brief brake on the Haaland juggernaut. City embark on their defence of their three titles having waved goodbye to Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, both allies in taking Haaland to his great mass of goals so far. The City future of Bernardo Silva, another supplier of helpful passes, has shades of doubt. What is certain is that whatever Haaland contributes against Arsenal on Sunday, no forward will be more feared by Premier League defenders in the weeks that follow.