David Owen

On Sunday, Sky Sports Statto tweeted a truly breathtaking statistic.

Prior to Erling Haaland, the Norwegian phenomenon who had just notched his third Premier League hat-trick in his eighth Premier League match - the Manchester Derby, no less - who do you suppose had scored the league's quickest hat-trick of hat-tricks?

The answer: Michael Owen - in his 48th appearance. That is six times as long. These are Bradman-esque numbers that Manchester City's powerful and deadly new centre-forward is putting up.

What a shame that Norway's failure to qualify means that next month’s World Cup will proceed without him.

Indeed, his absence amounts to the only remotely convincing argument I can imagine for expanding the tournament to 48 teams, as it will be in 2026.

For all that, the 22-year-old’s English achievements to date are not quite unprecedented.

The record goals tally in one English top-tier season stands at a stupendous 60.

To beat that, Haaland would have to keep going at his current breakneck goal-scoring pace for more or less the entire 38-game season.

This seems a tall order, even though the league's ever more lop-sided competitive balance means that his Manchester City side can expect to dominate most games they play.

Erling Haaland had scored a hat-trick in three of his first eight Premier League games ©Getty Images
Erling Haaland had scored a hat-trick in three of his first eight Premier League games ©Getty Images

What he has already achieved though is to make this 95-year-old record appear attainable for almost the first time since it was set.

William Ralph "Dixie" Dean is rarely mentioned, except perhaps by Everton fans, in lists of the very best footballers in history.

His total of 16 international caps for England, in an era when matches between nations were much less frequent than today, is impressive but not outstandingly so.

Nevertheless, his achievement of scoring 60 times in the English first division season of 1927-1928, during which he celebrated his 21st birthday, has been widely regarded as extraordinary and out of range for as long as I can remember.

It was a 42-game season in those days, though Dean played "only" 39, and his goals duly propelled his Merseyside club to the championship.

But in a league where the best and worst teams were matched much more evenly than nowadays, and substitutions were not allowed even in the event of serious injury, Everton triumphed in spite of losing a total of nine matches.

Their efforts would have yielded 73 points under the modern three-points-for-a-win system; this would have been good enough only for fourth place last season, even though in this day and age teams play four matches less.

Where Dean was lucky was that the start of his top-flight career coincided with a radical change to the sport's offside law.

On 13 June 1925 in Paris, football;s international board ruled that a player on the team in possession of the ball would be deemed onside if at least two defenders (including the goalkeeper) lay between him and the goal-line when the ball was passed in his direction. This is essentially as the law remains today.

Dixie Dean scored 60 times in one season - an English top-flight record ©Getty Images
Dixie Dean scored 60 times in one season - an English top-flight record ©Getty Images

Prior to that, three defenders had to be standing between an attacker and the goal-line for him to be adjudged onside.

Falling crowds and negative play had meant that the three-man offside law had been under review for some time.

Even so, the timing of the change, little more than two months before the start of the English league season, left defenders with little time to get their tactical ducks in a row.

Not surprisingly, scoring surged, with 1,703 goals scored in the first division, against 1,192 in 1924-1925.

On the very first day of the 1925-26 season, the Birmingham club Aston Villa pumped 10 goals past Burnley without reply. According to one newspaper, "the wits remarked that Burnley would do better next innings".

Dean had joined Everton from lower-league Tranmere Rovers some three months before the law change, in March 1925.

In early September, he signalled what he might be capable of by scoring seven for Everton reserves against Bradford City in another 10-0 drubbing.

Promoted to the first team, his first full year brought 33 goals from 40 league and cup matches.

The following season, his league tally dipped to 21, after he had suffered a serious injury during the summer.

Dixie Dean benefitted from an updated offside law but never had to contend with VAR ©Getty Images
Dixie Dean benefitted from an updated offside law but never had to contend with VAR ©Getty Images

It was the year after that which became his annus mirabilis.

While tactics had made adjustment for the new law by then, there were still more than 1,700 goals scored, and it seems unlikely Dean would have notched as many as he did if the old three-man offside law had pertained.

As things stand, Haaland is two ahead of Dean with 14 goals scored against 12 after eight matches.

The ninth game for both men falls on October 8.

This was a red-letter day for Dean 95 years ago, as he potted all five goals in a 5-2 win over Manchester United, last Sunday’s victims at the Etihad.

That took the Everton man's running total to 17. Haaland will need yet another hat-trick when Manchester City entertain Southampton on Saturday just to keep up.