“Phenomenon.” “One-off.” “Freak of nature.”
You name it and Erling Haaland has probably been called it as his prolific debut season in English football continues to destroy Premier League goal-scoring records.
Questions about how the Norway striker would fit in Manchester City’s system this season were soon answered when he netted 14 goals in his first eight Premier League games, including back-to-back hat-tricks against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest.
But what about pre-Premier League records?
William Ralph Dean led Everton to the league title in the 1927/28 season. Known as Dixie, Dean scored a barely believable 60 league goal, even though he missed three of the 42 matches that season.
Many years after his famous season, Dean spoke about his record:
So can Haaland walk on water?
Blackburn Rovers’ Ted Harper scored a record 43 goals during the 1925-26 top-flight campaign, but his impressive mark stood for just two years before Dean blew it out of the water.
Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly recalled Dean as well as anyone, having played against him for Preston North End in the mid-1930s.
So how good was Dean?
It is difficult to compare across eras, however, it is easier to compare Dean with his peers.
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Looking at the three years before and three years after Dean’s record-breaking season, the First Division’s leading scorer averaged 40 goals. Dean smashed that by 50%.
The closest anyone has come to challenging Dean is Tom Waring’s 49 for Aston Villa in the 1930/31 season, but even he only reached 81% of Dean’s total.
Since then, even reaching 40 goals has been elusive, with Jimmy Greaves the last player to meet that mark more than 60 years ago.
While physically Dean and Haaland are very different, their scoring records have similarities.
Comparing Dean’s 1927/28 season with the current one for Haaland, both scored on the opening day, and both scored their 12th goal in their eighth game.
Haaland went on to net two more in that match for a hat-trick in a 6-3 win against Manchester United, while Dean scored all five in a 5-2 win against the same opponents in his ninth game.
Haaland has slowed slightly, at least compared with Dean, but his hat-trick against Wolves left him with 25 after 19 games, slightly behind Dean’s 30 after the same number of appearances.
One of the great unanswerable questions is how many Dean might have scored if he’d played all 42 games.
One of the matches he missed, because of an England call-up, was a 7-0 romp against West Ham at Goodison Park.
How many might he have added to his tally that day?
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Dean did break the previous record in March 1928, then went three games without a goal before accelerating his output with a massive 17 goals in his last eight games to reach 60.
A hat-trick against Arsenal in his final match pushed him past George Camsell’s Football League record of 59 which he had set in Division Two with Middlesbrough.
It is a record that even Haaland looks like falling short of.
Andy Cole leads the current single-season Premier League-era scoring table with his 34 league goals in 40 games for Newcastle in 1994, before Shearer hit the same tally from two more games for Blackburn a season later.
Mohamed Salah holds the record for a 38-game season, and another Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez, came closest to managing a goal-per-game ratio.
Shearer broke the 30-goal barrier three times, but it is notable how few players have managed it - Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Didier Drogba and Sergio Aguero are not on the list despite being Premier League legends.
During the record-setting seasons listed above, the average goals per game in the Premier League hovered about the 2.7 mark. At his current pace, Haaland is likely to break the Premier League record in his 27th game, which if he plays all City’s matches will be against West Ham on March 18.