Haaland discusses his Man City future and toppling Messi

Manchester City's Erling Haaland attends a press conference at the City Football Academy, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2024 ahead of Wednesday's Champions League, round of 16 second-leg soccer match against Copenhagen. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Erling Haaland knew the impact his words could have . . . and said them anyway.

The striker faced questions on Tuesday about his Manchester City future, and speculation about a move to Real Madrid.

“If I say this now,” Haaland said, “it’s probably gonna be a massive headline tomorrow. You never know what the future brings, but I’m happy. You can write this, but you also have to write everything I said before.”

For full disclosure, Haaland spoke in glowing terms about life at City, about winning an historic treble of trophies in his first season, and being in contention to repeat the feat this year.

“I’m really happy. Especially with the people I’m surrounded with — the manager, directors, the board — they are a group of amazing people and I’m really happy,” he said.

That statement is unlikely to stop rumors linking him to Madrid, even though the Spanish club seems set to sign Kylian Mbappe when the France forward leaves Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season.

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during an English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday, March 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

City would like to help quell such talk by tying him to an even longer contract than his current deal, which runs until 2027.

“My focus mainly now is on the pitch,” he said. “There’s a lot of games. Two days ago was the Manchester derby, now Champions League, Sunday is Liverpool, I think I should focus on that. I don’t think I should focus on anything else at the moment.”

Haaland scored 52 goals in his first season at City to help capture the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies. Yet, despite his outstanding statistics he still missed out to Lionel Messi when it came to soccer’s biggest individual prizes, the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best award.

Will it take Messi to retire before Haaland is recognized as the best player in the world?

“I don’t know, good question,” the Norwegian said. “It’s true he won it and he won the World Cup, so I don’t know what to say. He’s the best that’s ever played I think, so yeah, I don’t know.”

For now, Haaland’s focus is on more team prizes with City.

First up on Wednesday is Copenhagen at home, with City leading 3-1 after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

On Sunday, City goes to Anfield for a top-of-the-table clash with Liverpool in the race for the English title. Then City plays Newcastle in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

“You can think about it in two ways. One thing (is) I came here and won it all, and the other thing (is) I’m 23 years old and I won everything and I got the taste of it. How I work is that when I feel this, I want to win it again.”

That attitude has impressed City manager Pep Guardiola in his short time with Haaland.

Guardiola coached Messi to two Champions League titles at Barcelona, and has worked with many of the best players in the world.

“He has impressed the most off the pitch with his lovely character,” Guardiola said. “The bigger stars are more humble normally, they understand better. Maybe that is why they are the biggest stars.”

Haaland suffered a foot injury that ruled him out for more than a month over December-January but is still the leading scorer in the Premier League with 18. He has 28 in all competitions and last week scored five in a 6-2 win against Luton in the FA Cup.

Yet, his astonishing miss from point-blank range on Sunday in the 3-1 win against Manchester United was as noteworthy as any of his goal-scoring feats this season.

Haaland said when he was younger he would cry if he lost games or missed chances. Times have changed.

“I missed a lot of chances. I will still keep on missing chances, I will still keep on scoring goals,” he said. “I’ll probably miss a big chance in the future as well, and people are going to criticize me, but what can I do? Should I think of that? No, just focus on scoring more goals and to help the team.”

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