MARK HUGHES played with some of the greatest strikers that football has ever seen.
There was Eric Cantona and Andy Cole at Manchester United, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola at Chelsea and Gary Lineker at Barcelona.
Yet the Welshman has never seen anything quite like the machine that is Erling Haaland.
Hughes was no ordinary front man himself but he has been blown away by Haaland’s first season at City where he has already bagged an astonishing 52 goals with FA Cup and Champions League finals still to come
He told SunSport: “I can’t say I’ve ever seen a phenomenon quite like Haaland. And he will surely only get better because he’s clearly driven.
“He’s not going to get motivated by money because he’s already a very wealthy young man.
“He just wants to make his mark on the game. For him it’s not about how many cars he’s got in the garage or whatever.
“It’s about ‘What can I do to make people remember me in the game?’ That’s his motivation.”
There are few in the game, if any, who can discuss Haaland’s attributes with such authority.
When it comes to playing alongside the greats, not just forwards – and even signing some as a manager -Hughes has seen and done most of it.
He teamed up with Eric Cantona in the charismatic double act that helped Sir Alex Ferguson end 26 years of title hurt in 1993 and made it back-to-back triumphs the following season.
Amongst his Old Trafford alumni were also Cole, Brian McClair, Paul Scholes, Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.
In a brief spell at Barcelona in the 1986-87 campaign his front-line partner was Gary Lineker. While on-loan at Bayern Munich he shared a dressing room with Lothar Mattheus
And, after scoring a total of 163 goals in 473 games for the Red Devils he left for Chelsea in 1995 and his sidekicks were Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli.
He then went on to play for Southampton linking up with the mercurial Matt Le Tissier.
When Hughes cut his teeth in management with his country before moving to Blackburn and then found himself the first boss of the Abu Dhabi era which began with the £32.5million entrance of Brazilian Robinho.
But before Sheik Mansour began his £2billion onslaught on the game it was Hughes who signed Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta.
However, for all those famous names he has played and worked with, his admiration for Haaland knows no bounds.
The 59-year-old insists that with Haaland big is beautiful, saying: “There have always been big strikers in the game, players that would knock defenders around.
“But there were always compromises, there was always something that they weren’t quite as good at.
“They maybe weren’t quick enough, or technically they weren’t the best, maybe their heading could have been better.
“But you look at this kid and there isn’t anything he can’t do.
“He’s got power, he’s got pace, he’s got intelligence as well. And he can tie in with the kind of football Pep Guardiola plays.
“He’s got so many talented players around him and he’s very quickly understood that.
“He’s constantly scanning the game and thinking: ‘How can I best hurt the opposition?’
“Haaland is an intelligent footballer and he can quickly work out what he needs to do to turn opposition defences.
“He recognises that he can hurt teams in so many different ways.
“That’s what makes it really difficult to cope with him – he’s a combination of physicality, pace, and he’s bright too.
“Pace frightens defenders anyway and that’s not generally something you see in big strikers who are six foot three or whatever.
“Sometimes you get guys who are quick but don’t know how to use it.
“Decision-making gets in the way. They get themselves into dangerous situations but then cross when they should pass, or pass then they should shoot.
“Playing alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva has only helped his education and honed an intelligence that was already developing when he was at Borussia Dortmund.
“Pep Guardiola’s influence is obviously crucial too. Really there’s nothing he can’t achieve, no limits.
“He will keep lifting himself to new, amazing levels because he is, indeed, a phenomenon the likes we’ve never seen in this era – and maybe ever.”