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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Fewer votes than Diogo Dalot — what Erling Haaland’s awards snub says about his season

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To go from polling 82 per cent of the vote to getting no votes whatsoever in a year is an electoral feat beyond even the Conservative Party. Erling Haaland’s popularity has plummeted in one respect; the runaway winner of Footballer of the Year in 2023, he was not the choice of any of the electorate in 2024. And yet, while his four goals against Wolves on Saturday came after the voting had closed, it took him to 36 for the season: the sort of number that might normally see a forward presented with the individual prizes.

Thierry Henry got the football writers’ nomination in seasons when he scored 32, 39 and 33 respectively, Mohamed Salah got his second award for a campaign when he struck 31 times. Luis Suarez also got 31, Robin van Persie 37 and Wayne Rooney 34 when they were honoured. And if one difference with Haaland is that each does more outside the box and is a player likelier to assist goals, maybe it shows the Norwegian was an award winner with a difference: perhaps Alan Shearer, in 1993-94, was the previous genuine No 9 to take the FWA silverware. Since then, the penalty-box poachers had been overlooked. The winners – including Phil Foden, crowned Haaland’s successor this week – tend to have more flair.

So arguably Haaland’s historic feats extended beyond becoming the first top-flight player in almost 100 years to get a half-century of goals when he struck 52 times last year. Maybe that is why his current tally looks underwhelming, despite being more than even Sergio Aguero ever mustered in a campaign for City. Haaland is not being judged against everyone else. He is being judged against himself and 36 is less than 52.

Haaland scored four against Wolves to surge clear in the Golden Boot race (Getty Images)

Some might simply say that Haaland’s grand tally of no votes from football journalists is an indictment of the electorate. It put him behind Ross Barkley, John McGinn and even Diogo Dalot, three of the more eclectic choices. The striker to attract most support was Ollie Watkins, who came fifth in a season that has yielded 27 goals and 12 assists. Last year, Haaland hoovered up most of the votes that went to City players. Now Foden came first and Rodri third.

With some good reason, too. The chances are that Pep Guardiola would not have voted for Foden, despite his 24 goals. Rodri might well have been his choice. Each has been outstanding in a way that Haaland has not: indeed some of Foden’s finest form came when the Norwegian was injured. City have only lost games that Rodri has missed, not ones that Haaland has sat out.

The Spaniard seems the opposite of Haaland: the most consistent player against an inconsistent one. In part, that is the product of his position. A holding midfielder has a guaranteed level of involvement whereas Haaland can have few touches, his games being judged on the basis of whether any of them end up in the back of the net. But Rodri has also acquired a reputation as a player whose goals are likelier to come in the bigger games. It isn’t entirely supported by the statistics, though he has four assists against the Premier League’s top seven, late goals home and away against Chelsea and a capacity to deliver at telling moments.

A criticism of Haaland is that too few of his 36 goals have come against the elite: one at Liverpool’s expense, none against either Arsenal or Real Madrid or, though he has only faced each once so far, Aston Villa or Tottenham. To some extent, however, most potent scorers are flat-track bullies: their appetite for goals is as intense regardless of the opposition and they tend to get more opportunities against the weaker teams. Yet this feels an extreme example. In all competitions, he has four goals against teams currently in the top seven, seven against those in the upper half. Eight of his 36 are penalties, though it is worth noting that City had a habit of missing from the spot until his arrival.

And the title race presents a different model of how to get goals. Arsenal have outscored City 88-87 in the league. In all competitions, their two top scorers, Bukayo Saka and Leandro Trossard, have 36 goals between them. Haaland has 36 on his own. The Belgian operates as a centre-forward at times, but more often elsewhere. Arsenal’s next two scorers, Kai Havertz and Martin Odegaard, have 24 between them: Foden has 24 on his own. Havertz has ended up as Arsenal’s false nine whereas Haaland is City’s bona fide No 9.

Either formula can work. But perhaps one minor difference may prove decisive. City have only been shut out in three league games: by Arsenal twice and Villa away. Arsenal have failed to score in five matches: home and away against Villa, plus at Newcastle and City and in their Emirates Stadium defeat to West Ham. Meanwhile, City’s final league game is at home to West Ham. Last year, Haaland scored in a 3-0 win in the corresponding fixture. Should history repeat itself, he could retain the Premier League even without retaining a single vote for the personal prize.

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