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7th November 2022

Opinion: Is Haaland the best player in the world?

Erling Haaland has been an unstoppable force in the Premier League since his arrival at the Etihad. Is he the world’s best player?
Opinion: Is Haaland the best player in the world?
Photo: Marco Verch @ Flickr

“Erling Haaland will not live up to the expectation … because he is not the player that everybody thinks he is.”  It is safe to say Rory Jennings is regretting his pre-season prediction.

After a mere two months playing in the English Premier League for Manchester City, it is an understatement to say that Erling Haaland has hit the ground running at his new home. In just nine appearances, Haaland has scored an eye-watering fifteen goals – already more than the career Premier League goal count of league legends, such as Luka Modric and Dimitri Payet.

Haaland has become the first Premier League player to score three hat-tricks in three successive home games. He is also the quickest player in Premier League history to reach a tally of three hat-tricks, doing so in just eight games. Any potential comparisons made between Haaland and strikers at other Premier League clubs – namely Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez – have already been blown out of the water. Conversations are now starting to turn to whether the twenty-two year old Norwegian is in fact the best player on Earth currently.

There is certainly evidence that backs up the claims of pundits such as ESPN’s Mark Ogden, who wholly argue that Haaland is currently the world’s best player. The goal scoring contribution that the Norwegian has made so far at Manchester City is simply unmatched by any other striker in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues. For instance, his closest adversary in the Premier League, Harry Kane, already lags a whole seven goals behind him in the goal scoring charts.

The effect that he has had at his new club is near beyond belief, with City’s average goal count per game having increased from 2.61 to 3.67. It also must not be forgotten that Haaland’s current form is nothing new. The player already having plied his trade in the German Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund over the past few seasons, where he scored sixty-two goals in sixty-seven appearances.

However, while Haaland’s statistics are undoubtedly impressive, and I am just as in awe of Haaland’s mind-boggling conversion rate as a centre-forward; I still currently  believe that any proclamation that the Norwegian is the best player in the world is wrong. This belief of mine ultimately does not come down to any real criticism of the 22 year old, yet more so the whole nature of debates and statements around any given player being the “best in the world.”

It is simply impossible to compare two high-level players who play in different positions, and unilaterally state that one is ‘better’ than another. For instance, how it is possible to compare Haaland, who plays as a centre-forward and is proclaimed by some to be the best in the world due to his goal-scoring ability; and Thibaut Courtois, also proclaimed by some to be the best player in the world, but instead as a result of his shot-stopping ability as a goalkeeper.

Moreover, there is a complete lack of reliable measures to define what exactly can constitute a player being considered one of the best in the world. Many consider a clear defining factor in whether a player is one of the ‘greats’ to be whether they have won the World Cup for their nation. Haaland – due to his nation of origin being Norway – will almost certainly never win anything on the international stage.

However, the lack of a World Cup will not make Haaland an objectively worse player at all; or an objectively worse player than Simone Barone, a wholly uninspiring mid-table Serie A journeyman, who picked up the ultimate international prize with the Italian ‘Azzurri’ in 2006.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion, that despite my intense admiration for the dazzling goal scoring ability of Erling Haaland, that has lit up the Premier League over the past few weeks, he can simply not be described as the current best footballer in the world. This is due to the total unreliability of the measures by which a player can be defined as such.

Instead, I believe in the mantra of BT Sport Pundit and legendary ex-player Rio Ferdinand back in 2018, when he was discussing the debate around Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. When faced by the prospect of watching two insanely talented footballers, “just enjoy it”. Don’t be someone who concerns themselves with trying to objectively define someone as the best as any attempt to do so will simply lead to an inadequate answer.

Words by Thomas Woodcock

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