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Kylian Mbappé and Erling Håland

Are Mbappé and Håland the new Messi and Ronaldo?

Kylian Mbappé and Erling Håland have been writing more football headlines this month, with both breaking club goalscoring records.

On Saturday 4th March, Mbappé scored his 201st goal for Paris Saint-Germain, becoming the club’s record goalscorer. Then on Tuesday 14th March, Håland hit five goals for Man City against RB Leipzig in the Champions League. Both of these achievements grabbed headlines and highlighted how good these two young players are right now. With both players still in their early 20s, the question is also raised: how good can they go on to be?

Kylian Mbappé: Club Record Holder at 24

Kylian Mbappé only turned 24 years old in December, yet he is already the top scorer in PSG’s history.

PSG is a relatively new club, founded in 1970. However, the club’s former goalscoring record of 200 goals was still in the same ballpark as many other European clubs. Alan Shearer broke Newcastle’s record on 4th February 2006 by reaching the same total. Harry Kane recently became Tottenham’s record-holder with the slightly higher total of 267.

Shearer and Kane were 36 and 29 respectively when breaking those records. A few loan spells aside, Kane has played for Tottenham his entire career. Therefore remarkably Mbappé is more similar to Shearer in that he had starred for Monaco before joining PSG in summer 2018. To break a 200-goal scoring record before his 25th birthday is a remarkable achievement.

Erling Håland: City’s single-season record

Less than two weeks later, Erling Håland was making a scoring statement of his own. The Manchester City forward remarkably scored five goals in a single Champions League match against RB Leipzig. He is only the third player to achieve this feat, after Luiz Adriano and Lionel Messi. Only Messi had previously scored five in a match in the knockout stages of the competition.

As well as the individual-match total equaling that record, the five goals took Håland to 39 for the season. Håland therefore takes Manchester City’s single-season goalscoring record. The previous record-holder was Tommy Johnson, who had scored 38 all the way back in the 1928-29 season. Now that’s long-standing record!

The haul also made Håland the youngest player to reach the total of 30 goals in the Champions League. He takes over that record from Kylian Mbappé. It’s amazing to think that the Norwegian is actually even younger. Erling Håland is only 22 years old and won’t turn 23 until July 2023!

Messi and Ronaldo

Over the past 10-15 years we have seen an era where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated individual records en route to collecting multiple Champions League winners’ medals.

This has been a very different era to the previous eras of European football. In the 1990s it was more common to see a variety of great teams and players starring for different clubs. Many different clubs had greater access to the great players and great goalscorers of the time. Different players won the Ballon d’Or award every single year in the 1990s. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that the pattern changed. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won every single award between 2008 and 2017.

The Ballon d’Or is in an individual award, however it does reflect the way that teams are constructed. Messi and Ronaldo dominated the Ballon d’Or because they won so many trophies and scored so many goals. They scored so consistently not just because they were very talented, but because of the teams around them. Super-teams with amazing squad depth have become more prevalent. Top Champions League teams of today dominate their matches and contain more elite chance-creators than teams of the past. A world class goalscorer playing in this sort of team is capable of amazing output.

Heirs Apparent?

In past eras of European football, clubs which aren’t viewed as the very biggest in their league or in Europe have been able to sign some of the very best talent. Real Betis, Newcastle United, Napoli, and Boca Juniors all broke the world transfer record in the 1980s and 90s. It’s hard to imagine clubs like these doing that today. In Boca’s case, it’s even more difficult to picture a South American club ever breaking the record again.

Nowadays it’s only a handful of elite clubs who are in the market for the very top players. PSG and Man City already surround Mbappé and Håland with a dominant team in almost every match. Hat-trick and goalscoring records will follow. If they move, it will be to one of a handful of clubs who can continue to provide the same conditions. It’s therefore not a surprise to see some predicting that these two could be the new Messi and Ronaldo, vying for honours and individual awards for the next decade.

Madrid Calling for Mbappé?

Real Madrid has an amazing allure as a football club. Most players today consider them a destination club in their dreams if not their career plans. Madrid is the most successful Spanish club, and the most successful club in European competitions. This is a record they have reinforced by winning the Champions League in five of the last nine seasons.

Real Madrid wanted to sign Mbappé before he moved to Paris Saint-Germain. Media speculation then linked him with the same move last summer. Mbappé stayed in Paris in the hopes of breaking the club’s goalscoring record and winning the club’s first Champions League trophy. Having completed one half of this, perhaps the Frenchman will be starting to wonder if winning “the big one” will be easier at the Bernabeu.

Or Håland to Madrid instead?

Signing Håland would seem a more difficult proposition given the wealth not just of Manchester City’s owners but also the Premier League as a whole. However, there is still plenty of speculation about a release clause in the Norwegian’s contract. There’s even speculation the clause is Real-specific, although Pep Guardiola has denied its existence.

There’s no way that Manchester City will want to lose Håland. He will likely get even better with age, which is a scary thought indeed.

The Premier league is arguably becoming a de-facto European Super League and, the individual allure of Madrid aside, is the place where most young players aspire to play. Håland is living the dream and you’d imagine he would be harder to sign than Mbappé as a result.

However, that dominance of the Premier League will only make Real Madrid more determined to keep acquiring the very best players. It is likely that speculation about Håland moving there will continue as long as he is at Manchester City. This will be nothing new for City, as their previous star forward Sergio Agüero was consistently linked with the same transfer.

How about both?

Just before Cristiano Ronaldo moved back to Old Trafford in 2021, there was a brief period where it seemed possible if unlikely that Messi and Ronaldo could be united at Paris Saint-Germain. That amazing possibility never came to pass, but could it happen in the next generation, perhaps with both Mbappé and Håland heading to Real Madrid?

Both of these new young superstars are likely to command extremely large transfer fees. It’s likely a fee for either would be close to or even exceed the €222 million world record paid by PSG for Neymar in 2017.

This does make it somewhat unlikely that one club will ever be able to sign both Mbappé and Håland. Whilst this is probably a good thing for the level of competition in the UEFA Champions League in particular, it’s also a tiny bit of a shame: just imagine how devastatingly unstoppable the two of them could potentially be in the same team.

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