Erling Haaland eviscerated the Premier League and fired Man City to their first Champions League - he fully deserves to win the 2023 Ballon d'Or over Lionel Messi

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The Norwegian dominated every competition he was in and helped his club make history while his main rival just saved himself for the World Cup

Move over Lionel Messi, your days of dominating the Ballon d'Or are over! A new king is ready to take your crown. His name is Erling Haaland and last season, he scored a total of 52 goals in 53 matches while winning every club trophy that mattered with Manchester City.

Powered by Haaland's insatiable hunger for goals, City chased down long-time Premier League leaders Arsenal to win a third successive title. He also led them to win the FA Cup, enjoying a satisfying win in the final over arch rivals Manchester United.

And most importantly, Haaland inspired City to win the Champions League, the trophy they had craved the most and which they had seemed incapable of achieving until the arrival of the Norwegian, who also finished top scorer in Europe's elite competition.

With an achievement list like that, it's a wonder why there even needs to be a voting process for this year's Ballon d'Or. As GOAL explains, no one can rival Haaland for the most prestigious individual award in football. Not even Messi...

  1. Speeding up, not slowing down

    Speeding up, not slowing down

    Haaland arrived in England last year already renowned for his logic-defying goalscoring feats with previous clubs Red Bull Salzburg, where he had scored 17 goals in 16 league matches, and Borussia Dortmund, where he had posted 62 goals in 67 Bundesliga appearances. Few people expected him to be able to maintain such a prolific strike rate in the toughest league in the world, however.

    Haaland, who had just turned 22 at when he signed for City for £52 million ($65m), quickly put his doubters in their place, scoring nine goals in his opening five games, including back-to-back hat-tricks. Far from being slowed down by the step up to English football, he sped up, and went on to score more goals than he had in any previous season, breaking new records with each passing week.

    By October, Haaland had become the fastest player to score three Premier League hat-tricks, doing so in eight games. The previous record holder was Michael Owen, who needed 48 games to reach the milestone for Liverpool. By the end of February, he had scored 27 league goals, breaking Sergio Aguero's record for the most goals in a Premier League season for City.

    Haaland also went past Alan Shearer and Andy Cole's record of netting 34 Premier League goals in a season, which had stood for 28 years. He finished the campaign with 36 Premier League strikes in 35 matches and only 32 starts, averaging a goal every 77 minutes.

  2. Team-mates & Guardiola adapt to him

    Team-mates & Guardiola adapt to him

    It was also expected that Haaland might take some time to adapt to City, who had spent the previous season mostly playing without a striker. There were also questions about how Haaland would adapt to the infamously demanding Pep Guardiola. After all, Guardiola had had a disastrous relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the player Haaland idolised the most.

    Those ideas were soon exposed as being well wide of the mark, though. Far from Haaland having to adapt to his new team-mates, they adapted to him. And it quickly became apparent that Guardiola had spent the summer devising a new tactical plan to ensure he got the best out of the Norwegian.

    Jack Grealish was forced to curb his individualist tendencies and Kevin De Bruyne, City's top scorer the previous season, was encouraged first and foremost to serve Haaland. He did so gladly, providing 13 assists to the striker.

    Guardiola's desire to make the most of Haaland even went beyond his attacking players. He did away with the notion of adventurous full-backs, at the expense of his relationship with Joao Cancelo and, briefly, Kyle Walker. Instead, he played natural centre-backs such as Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji and John Stones at full-back, while Stones also morphed into a marauding midfielder.

    Guardiola practically ripped up his previous game-plan just to suit Haaland. And it paid off handsomely.

  3. Turning City into history makers

    Turning City into history makers

    It's true that City were already a great side when Haaland joined and had won four of the previous five Premier League titles. But the Norwegian has made them even more formidable, while he has also made them much less predictable to play against.

    His monstrous presence in the box meant opponents could not just sit back and defend against City for 90 minutes as they used to. And his speed discouraged teams from playing a high defensive line and attempting to press them high.

    The Cityzens had never previously won three consecutive Premier League league titles, but Haaland helped them achieve that milestone, becoming only the third side to do so after Manchester United in 2001 and 2009. Would they have been able to overhaul Arsenal, who led the title race from August until early May, without Haaland? It seems doubtful.

    Haaland was also the missing piece in the jigsaw for City's ultimate quest: winning the Champions League. Guardiola had won Europe's top prize twice in his first three years as a head coach with Barcelona, but it had since kept evading his grasp. He had reached the semi-finals three times with Bayern Munich and once with City, missing out each time.

    With Haaland in the team, he got that monkey off his back, knocking out European aristocrats Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in style before eventually seeing off a stubborn Inter in the final in Istanbul. City's triumph in Turkey saw them become only the second team in English football to win the treble, emulating Manchester United's achievement in 1999 which Blues fans had grown sick of hearing about. Now they have their own treble to gloat about, and it's all down to Haaland.

  4. More complete season than Messi
    Getty Images

    More complete season than Messi

    Despite having a near-perfect season, Haaland does face a formidable opponent for this year's Ballon d'Or. No one can dispute that Messi, as a seven-time winner, is one of the greatest players of all time, a mesmeric footballer who takes the breath away. And sure, last season Messi finally got his hands on the World Cup, the one thing missing from his remarkably long list of honours, and was instrumental to Argentina's triumph.

    But, his heroics in Qatar aside, what else did Messi do last season? His Paris Saint-Germain limped over the line in the Ligue 1 title race and crashed out in the last 16 of the Coupe de France. And they had yet another failure in the Champions League, which Messi was brought to Paris to help them finally win.

    PSG failed to top their group in hilarious circumstances, landing them a daunting last-16 tie with Bayern Munich. Messi was anonymous in both matches against the Bavarians, just as he had been in their defeat to Real Madrid the previous season at the same stage.

    The Champions League exit effectively brought Messi's campaign to an end, and his final few months at PSG were a nightmare. He was booed by the club's fans and vilified by president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after missing training to fulfil commercial duties in Saudi Arabia.

    "These were two years [PSG] in which I was not happy. I did not enjoy myself, and that affected my family life," Messi admitted to newspaper Mundo Deportivo in July. Neymar put it even more bluntly, saying of his and Messi's time in the French capital: "We lived through hell, both he and I."

  5. Messi is the past; Haaland is the present and future

    Messi is the past; Haaland is the present and future

    Messi was undoubtedly the best player of the World Cup and was suitably rewarded, winning the Golden Ball. He also earned FIFA's The Best award in February, largely due to his performances in Qatar. The Argentine has already been garlanded enough for leading his country to glory nine months ago. And when the Ballon d'Or ceremony takes place in Paris in October, it will have been nearly a year since the World Cup.

    Since then, he has been hounded out of PSG and is now seeing out his career in MLS with Inter Miami. He is having a wonderful time, leading his new side to Leagues Cup glory and being watched by an army of celebrities and star-struck fans each week. But he is no longer playing at the pinnacle of club football and his most prominent team-mates are also past their mid-30s.

    Haaland, meanwhile, is in the prime of his life at the age of 23, playing for the best team in the world, in the best league in the world and for the best manager in the world. His record-breaking feats and treble triumph are fresh in the memory, and he has made a flying start to the new season, scoring six goals in his first four matches, including a hat-trick against Fulham in his last appearance. He was also just named UEFA's Player of the Year and the PFA Player of the Year.

    Messi, let's face it, is now in football's past, enjoying one final world tour before his imminent retirement. Haaland, by contrast, is football's present and future.

  6. What more could he have done?

    What more could he have done?

    The only thing Messi has going for him ahead of Haaland in the running for the Ballon d'Or is the World Cup, a tournament the Norwegian could play no part in due to the fact that he has the misfortune to not have been raised in a footballing powerhouse. Indeed, football is not even the most popular sport in Norway, trailing skiing and ice hockey.

    Norway have not qualified for the World Cup since 1998 and it seems grossly unfair to give Messi the Ballon d'Or due to his work in a tournament his main rival did not enter. But where you can compare the two players is the Champions League.

    That used to be Messi's domain. The Argentine won four European crowns with Barca and is the second all-time top scorer in the competition with 121 goals, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

    But now it is Haaland's fiefdom. The Norwegian has been fascinated with the competition since he was seven years old and has its music as the ringtone on his mobile phone. He struck eight times in his first campaign in it for Salzburg despite playing in just six games, and last season finished top scorer with 12 goals.

    In one match alone, against RB Leipzig, he became the first player in 11 years to score five times in a knockout match. The last person to do so was Messi, and Haaland might well have broken the Argentine's record had Guardiola not taken him off early in the second half. In the same month Haaland was making history in the competition, Messi was limping out of it with PSG against Bayern.

    City met Bayern in the next round and Haaland scored in both legs. He did not find the net against Real Madrid in the semis or Inter in the final, but his mere presence and reputation scared City's opponents in other areas of the pitch as they ended up winning the trophy.

    Messi last lifted the Champions League in 2015, just before he turned 28. Haaland, one suspects, will be hoisting what the Argentine once described as "that beautiful cup" a few times more before his career winds down.

    Messi's reign of world football has been beautiful but his days are numbered and we are now living in the Erling Haaland era. What better way to commemorate it than to give him the Ballon d'Or. Aside from switching nationalities, he could hardly have done more to deserve it.