Can an athlete be too good to compete fairly in his or her sport? It’s a question asked very occasionally—when a sportsperson such as Roger Federer, in tennis, Tiger Woods, in golf, or Usain Bolt, in sprint, becomes so dominant that pretty much nobody on the planet can beat him.

The season has only recently opened in the world’s most prestigious and richest men’s soccer league, the English Premier League, but a towering, blond, 22-year-old Norwegian is already proving to be so exceptional that sports pundits and fans are wondering if he is “unplayable.”

One soccer manager has described him as “an alien,” while some fans call him a “robot.” An ex-pro player compared him to the massively built, metal-toothed Bond villain, Jaws. Another describes him simply as “a monster.” His skills and statistics are described in ever more superlative terms, from “brutal and beautiful” to “lethal,” to “unique” and even “ridiculous.” Not only is his emergence “unfair,” according to an ex-England defender, but another pro player says the Norwegian could “destroy” the league in which he plays.

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the incredible hulking Norseman.

The problem is that Erling Braut Haaland, newly traded from a German club for $63 million, scores goals more or less every game. In 12 matches so far for his club, Manchester City (different and more successful than the better-known Manchester United) Haaland has netted 19 goals. At his previous club, Borussia Dortmund, he scored 86 goals in 89 appearances.

American sports fans unfamiliar with soccer may reason that because Haaland is a “striker”—a player deployed to score goals—there’s no big deal about his, well, scoring goals. However, this is to misunderstand a game where goals are few and many a thrilling match ends up a 0–0 or 1–1 tie. Even world-renowned strikers often go a few matches without scoring.

Although it’s early in Haaland’s career, his 1.6 goals–a–game record, with Manchester City, compares startlingly with the scoring statistics of the best players in history and alarms those who feel he’s spoiling soccer itself by being just too prodigious. Argentina’s Lionel Messi, for example, has managed 0.79 goals per game in his stellar career to date; the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, 0.72. The late Diego Maradona, of Argentina, scored 259 goals in 490 games, just 0.53 per game. Only the Brazilian ace Pelé came close to Haaland’s new 1.6 average, scoring 767 goals in 831 games—0.92 per game. At this rate, then, Haaland could become the greatest player in soccer history. No wonder his own manager, Pep Guardiola, describes his scoring statistics as “scary.”

So what is he doing that is so different from previous greats?

Haaland may look like Jesse Plemons, but he has the wingspan of a professional basketball player.

A lot is due to his physique. He is “stronger, taller, faster than anything we have seen before,” says the manager who joked about his being an alien. Soccer players are generally slighter than N.B.A. or N.F.L. stars, and Haaland, at six foot four and 207 pounds, wouldn’t stand out physically in U.S. sports. He is big for soccer, however. One sports commentator says that when watching Haaland, it sometimes looks like a 14-year-old has joined an under-8s game.

Despite his size, Haaland is exceptionally fast and agile. From his first game in England, he has skipped around defenders, many of them world-class themselves, as if they were traffic cones. At full tilt, he runs fast enough to get a speeding ticket in some British cities—he hit 22.39 m.p.h. in a game in Germany last year.

Physically, Haaland has been described as “a genetic freak,” and his ability to turn food into muscle has astonished trainers. A coach at one of his first clubs back in Norway said Haaland once “gained 26 pounds of pure muscle in 15 months.”

The young prodigy’s genetic heritage is, indeed, promising, if not quite predictive of the heights he is attaining early in his career. Haaland’s father, Alfie, was a competent midfielder in the English league, playing for Manchester City for three years. His mother, Gry Marita Braut, is a former national heptathlon champion.

No surprise, perhaps, that the young Erling was achieving in athletics early. He still holds the world record for the longest standing jump for five-year-olds: 1.63 meters.

A League of His Own

Although Haaland manages to contort his body into implausible positions to fire home goals, he also makes scoring look rather easy, rendering defense players’ efforts at coping with him almost embarrassing. He routinely extracts the ball from a bunch of two or three thrashing defenders—each of them players at the peak of their career, earning tens of millions a year—and place it into the net with seeming ease.

If there is one negative to Haaland, it is that this knack for making goal scoring look simple is not hugely spectacular to watch. He could be accused of making “the beautiful game,” as Pelé called soccer, a little mundane. Add to this the fact that he makes every game something close to a foregone conclusion—and that his peak career could have 10 or 15 years to run—and you start to see why some, even if in jest, think he could spoil soccer.

As a personality, he is a calm, unselfish team player, and when in private is said to be a modest and good-natured young man, as well as wise (or reticent) enough to rarely give interviews—and if he does, to say nothing beyond platitudes.

His manifest intelligence on the field also makes the task of opposing him too much for almost any defender to date. He mostly lopes around the pitch, rarely even troubling to kick the ball for minutes at a time. In one game for Manchester City, he made contact with the ball only eight times during the whole match. But watch Haaland carefully and you see he is constantly positioning himself to strike, reading the play, and running into space to pick up a pass.

It was these non-physical attributes that John Vik, the New York–born talent scout credited with discovering Haaland when he was still playing for small-town teams in Norway, noted in his first report on the teenage player in an under-15s game.

“It was all about his mentality,” Vik told the sports publication the Athletic, recalling how Haaland scored a goal directly from the kickoff by looping the ball 50 yards from the halfway line, over the flailing opposition goalkeeper’s head and into the net. It was the kind of thing only a fool or a genius would attempt.

“In Norway, everyone has more or less the same personality,” says Vik in the Athletic. “If you aren’t like that, you’re looked upon as crazy. But this guy doesn’t care. He’s just being himself.”

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology