With both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo coming to the back end of their careers, media and football fans alike have been scrambling for what seems like years to find and then anoint the new King or Kings of the game.
Plenty of ‘new’ Messi’s or Ronaldo’s have burst onto the scene but disappeared as quickly as they arrived. A star not so much burning brightly as shining all too briefly.
In the case of both Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland, not only was there a sense from the beginning that they were different to any other pretenders to the throne, but each was also able to learn their craft, initially, away from the glare of publicity.
Only the relentless nature of their goalscoring and/or match winning performances ensured that they’d soon be placed front and centre.
Mbappe came to the fore back in December 2015 when making his debut as Monaco’s youngest ever player, beating Thierry Henry’s 21-year-old record.
"How did you do against Thierry?" – @LeeDixon2
"Clean sheet 0-0." – @GNev2
"That's the only reason he mentioned him!" – Roy Keane
During the 2018 World Cup, our studio team discussed the similarities between Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappe… 👀 pic.twitter.com/jwKtT7RVvv
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) February 17, 2021
Indeed, his goalscoring exploits when compared to Messi and Ronaldo at the same age had far exceeded his contemporaries.Jason Pettigrove
To say his rise was meteoric was an understatement. By the end of the 2017 season, he’d helped his side to the Ligue 1 title and also plundered 26 goals in 44 matches in all competitions despite being just 18 years of age.
Indeed, his goalscoring exploits when compared to Messi and Ronaldo at the same age had far exceeded his contemporaries.
He has gone on to be the focal point at Paris Saint-Germain alongside Neymar, and for the French national side, for whom he is now a regular.
Furthermore, he is, after Pelé, only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final, and in a tournament (2018) where he was easily amongst the main protagonists throughout.
Haaland, meanwhile, two years Mbappe’s junior, built his legend at Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, but what many don’t realise is that he already had the football world taking notice whilst under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tutelage at Molde.
– 27 games
– 29 goals
– 13 games
– 18 goals
– 34 games
– 32 goals
– 47 games
– 44 goals
— Transfer Wire (@transferdicky) March 6, 2021
A four-goal blast in 21 minutes against the Norwegian league leaders, SK Brann, unbeaten to that point of their 2018 season, was a case in point.
After his switch to Red Bull, the question on everyone’s lips was whether he would be able to continue his exploits at a higher level. Four hat-tricks within two months of signing answered that particular question emphatically enough.
One of those came in the Champions League against Genk, which he followed up with goals against Liverpool, Napoli (twice) and Genk again, becoming the first teenager to score in his first five Champions League games.
Although no one was yet talking in terms of Mbappe v Haaland as the new rivalry, there was a very definite sense of anything one could do, the other could do better. An unspoken desire to grab the headlines if you prefer.
The Frenchman has continued his upward trajectory at PSG and Haaland, after 17 goals in 16 games for Salzburg, still can’t stop scoring for Borussia Dortmund, whom he signed for at the beginning of 2020.
If we compare their Champions League output in 2020/21 rather than domestic, what’s interesting is that, again, one is all about goals whilst the other has excelled in other areas of the game too. Almost mirroring the constant Messi v Ronaldo argument.
For example, Haaland has played significantly less minutes than Mbappe (435 to 539), and yet he has more ball recoveries (16-12), has lost possession less often (44-81), has been offside less (1-6) and has scored more goals from inside the box (eight compared to Mbappe’s five).
His conversion rate (40%-27.78%), shots (20-18), shot accuracy (70%-55.56%), shots on target (14-10) and shots off target (6-8) are also better than the Frenchman.
However, chance creation (13-7), passes attempted (183-90), passes completed (145-67), pass accuracy (79.23%-74.44%), passes completed in the opposition half (116-47), forward passes (30-21), take-on success (71.05%-70%), take-ons completed (27-7) and duels on the ground (70.69%-40%) all favour Mbappe.
Of course, they’ll need to go some way to match the exploits of Messi and Ronaldo, but in the fullness of time, who is to say they won’t?
Much like Ronaldo admitted at the 2019 Ballon d’Or gala, both he and Messi pushed each other on by virtue of their consistent excellence. In the same way Federer and Nadal/Djokovic have, and James Hunt and Niki Lauda did for those old enough to remember one of motor racing’s greatest rivalries.
One suspects that there’ll be a healthy dose of respect from both players as they continue their careers, and with both scoring Champions League goals for their respective sides last time out – on a night when Messi and Ronaldo fluffed their lines let’s not forget – it seems that the princes are already beginning their ascension.
Haaland may find the riches of the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea or Real Madrid to name three, too good an offer to refuse this summer. A move to his father, Alf Inge Haaland’s old club, Manchester City, might even be an option.
Latest rumours suggest that Mbappe might also be on the move, potentially pitching up just down the road at Liverpool.
Perhaps only then will we get a truer reflection of whether this is to be football’s new battle royale.