Benjamin Sesko knows the issue of comparing himself with Erling Haaland will come up and not just because his RB Leipzig side host Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Both are 6ft 4in strikers, both used to play for Red Bull Salzburg and – previously and remarkably – Sesko has claimed that team-mates at the Austrian club even told him he was better than Haaland.
It was some statement and one the 20-year-old Slovenian has probably come to regret, especially as it is raised again.
“What should I say?” Sesko protests. “I said it once but it looks like I was saying I was way better than him.”
He qualifies this by adding: “This is comparing me to someone who is one of the best players in the world. So, it’s not easy to compare. I would not like to compare myself to anyone. I would just love to be myself and be the best myself.”
Their paths never really crossed at Salzburg – Sesko recalls seeing Haaland in training, watching him in matches and meeting once at the airport as the Norwegian headed to a Champions League fixture and he was travelling to play for the youth team.
“I went to the games, because I was playing in the youth [side] back then it was interesting to look at him because he’s the same height and some kind of movements are the same. At this point you think ‘I want to be like him’,” Sesko says.
There is another comparison. Like Haaland, Sesko appears to have planned his career carefully and chose a big Bundesliga club – for Haaland it was Borussia Dortmund, for Sesko it is Leipzig – rather than moving straight to the Premier League or La Liga. For both, it felt like more of a natural progression.
With Sesko there was late interest last year from Manchester United but a deal had already been agreed for him to remain with Salzburg for one more season before joining Leipzig, their sister club of course, this summer for €24 million (£20.8 million).
“The thing is I was not really into that kind of conversation,” he says when asked about United coming in for him at the 11th hour. “But I think it was better just to come here.”
Sesko has been part of another significant upheaval at Leipzig who sold Christopher Nkunku to Chelsea, Dominik Szoboszlai to Liverpool and Josko Gvardiol to Manchester City as they re-shaped their squad. In have come Sesko and fellow striker Lois Openda along with Nicolas Seiwald, also from Salzburg, and Xavi Simons and Fábio Carvalho on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool, respectively.
Openda, a record signing from Lens, has particularly impressed as Leipzig beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in the German Super Cup – the season curtain-raiser – and won their opening Champions League tie 3-1 over Young Boys. Sesko was among the scorers in Bern. They are fifth in the league but only three points behind leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
Facing City will bring a shudder for Leipzig after last March’s 7-0 trouncing in the second leg of their last-16 tie, following a 1-1 draw in Germany, Haaland scoring five in the first hour.
Sesko believes, however, this is a different Leipzig. “We have the quality, it’s not in question,” he says. “But if we are not 100 per cent there is not a chance. It can be hard for them as we have a great team and can show a lot.”
Sesko knows that clubs such as United are still tracking him and that it is part of Leipzig’s business model to develop him and move him on. “It’s a really big step to go from Salzburg to here in one of the best leagues in the world,” he says. “Sometimes I have to stop myself and say: ‘Look, this can take time and then it’s going to work.’ But I am really, really happy with the start.
“I am not thinking about where I want to go next. I don’t have a favourite club to be. It’s important to make the right decision from where I have been. I just want to focus on here and let’s see what happens.”
Unsurprisingly given his size, Sesko was urged when he was younger to play in goal – like his father – but admits he found it “really boring” while there was also a choice to be made between football and basketball. “I still do it in my free time because throwing a hoop is for me one of the best things to do,” he says.
“Sometimes it was in my head – what should I choose? But I was always training with a club and playing football so it was not really 50/50.”
If he did eventually join United he would be following in the footsteps of his idol: another 6ft 4in striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “I am not saying now that I play like him but he was making fun, he was enjoying [himself] on the pitch. He was doing what he wanted to do. And that makes me really happy when I see that kind of player like him,” Sesko says. “Every single video I could find, I was looking at him.”
So, one day, will we see Sesko in the Premier League? “It’s hard to say what will happen, you know?” he says. “I could be great or not that great! Of course, it would be nice to play there but first of all let’s focus on right now.”