Haaland set to reign over Europe as Man City eye historic treble
LONDON, June 8, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Erling Haaland has been backed to dominate the Champions League for years to come as the record-breaking Manchester City striker aims to fire his side to treble glory in Saturday's final against Inter Milan.
Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm in his first season, scoring 52 goals in all competitions since signing from Borussia Dortmund.
The 22-year-old fuelled City's successful bid to overhaul Arsenal in the title race before Pep Guardiola's side completed the second leg of the treble with their FA Cup final victory against Manchester United last Saturday.
City are firm favourites to win the Champions League for the first time when they face Inter in Istanbul this weekend.
That would make City only the second English club after Manchester United in 1999 to lift the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season.
Yet, ominously for defenders across Europe, Haaland believes he can only get better as he spends more time in Guardiola's unique system.
"I've been developing in a really positive way and that's important for me because I'm still really young," he said.
"I'm 22, I've got a long career ahead of me and I still have to develop. That's also something I was thinking of over one year ago when I was thinking about my next move."
It is a view shared by Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, who knows all about the ups and downs of life in the Premier League.
Former Manchester United and Everton striker Lukaku, currently on loan at Inter from Chelsea, is a huge fan of Haaland, whose physical approach mirrors the Belgian's own style of play.
He expects the Norwegian to establish himself as the world's most feared forward alongside Paris Saint Germain's Kylian Mbappe.
"I think he will dominate, with Mbappe, world football for the next 10 years," Lukaku told CNN.
"They will be fighting from the new generation. They will really take over from Messi and Ronaldo in the next two years."
- 'One more' -
The awe-inspiring statistics of Haaland's first season with City are enough to give Inter boss Simone Inzaghi sleepless nights.
Haaland's 36 Premier League goals set a record for single season in the competition.
Haaland's 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances so far this season played a huge role in City's progress to only their second final in Europe's elite club competition.
He is the first player to be voted Premier League Player and Young Player of the Year in the same season and was also named the Football Writers' Association (FWA) men's footballer of the year.
It has been a life-changing year for Haaland, who said: "I'm 196cm tall and have got long blond hair so wherever I go people are going to see me. So that's how my life is.
"What can I do? There's nothing I can do, that's my life. I just have to try to enjoy it as much as I can. Try to relax when I'm home with good people around me, that's really important."
It is hard to imagine now, but there was a brief period earlier this year when some critics suggested City were worse off with Haaland.
After winning the title without a recognised striker in the previous two seasons, City had fallen behind Premier League pace-setters Arsenal as Haaland occasionally looked isolated up front.
He has silenced those doubters in emphatic fashion, but Inter will have noted he goes into the final with only one goal in his last seven games.
Haaland's current four-match goalless run is his longest in a City shirt, and he hasn't gone as many games without scoring since April 2021.
Yet Haaland had a warning for Inter just seconds after the final whistle blew following the FA Cup final.
While hugging Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva on the Wembley pitch, Haaland exhorted his City team-mates to make one last push in Istanbul.
"Come on, one more," he roared while pumping his fist.
Few would be surprised if the intensely driven Haaland ends his drought by scoring the goal that makes history for City.