Meet the Player Who's Outscoring Messi, Ronaldo and Falcao This Season

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2012

IPSWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 21:  Michael Chopra of Ipswich Town battles with Charlie Austin of Burnley during the npower Championship match between Ipswich Town and Burnley at Portman Road on March 21, 2012 in Ipswich, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Some of Europe's most celebrated strikers have been earning their inflated wages in style so far this season.

Radamel Falcao has found the net 13 times in just 10 appearances for Atletico Madrid, all while maintaining his magnificent hairstyle. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, has Kung Fu'ed his way to 14 strikes in a Paris Saint-Germain shirt. Lionel Messi has managed 17 goals in all competitions for Barcelona, a tally only bettered in Spain by his fierce Ballon d'Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who has hit the onion bag 18 times.

Yet none of these men can claim to be the leading striker in Europe. That honor goes to a former bricklayer playing for a mid-table Championship side.

Burnley forward Charlie Austin brought his season tally to an impressive 20 goals with his late winner at Leeds on Tuesday night.

The 23-year-old is responsible for 17 of Burnley's 29 league goals in this campaign––including two hat-tricks––with his other strikes coming in the League Cup.

Not only is his prolific form unmatched in Europe, but it has earned the Clarets striker several records; he has become the quickest player to reach 20 goals in a season at his club (it's taken just 17 games; eight fewer than the previous record holder) and has already become the first player at Turf Moor to score in eight consecutive games.

Unlike Leo Messi and his superstar ilk, Austin was not nurtured by a globally dominating club from a young age. His career path is rather more humble and typical of the traditional British working class journeyman player.

After being released by Reading's academy at the age of 15 after he was deemed too small to succeed, the youngster from Berkshire started playing for local sides. In 2008, he joined Non-League Poole Town, while earning £80 per week as a bricklayer for his father's business.

His days in the construction industry, however, were cut short when he was offered a trial at Swindon Town in 2009. He impressed manager Danny Wilson and made his professional debut in October 2009.

After scoring 31 goals in one-and-a-half seasons for the Robins, Austin was snapped up by Burnley in January 2011 for a fee of £1.5 million. His wages have not been disclosed, but it's safe to say that Cristiano Ronaldo probably takes a few hours to earn what Austin makes in a week.

While it is difficult to compare the accomplishments of a striker in the Championship to those breaking down defences in Europe's most competitive leagues, Austin has now scored 74 goals in 132 games, over just three seasons as a professional. That's not bad for someone who used to lay bricks for a living.

Austin's achievements raise two big questions: Can he keep scoring this season, and does international stardom beckon?

Since the departure of strike partner Jay Rodriguez to Southampton over the summer, Austin has become Burnley's primary source of goals. Manager Sean Dyche puts his success down to his tenacious never-say-die attitude, and if it continues, there's no reason why he can't finish the campaign with more than 35 goals.

As for the question of international stardom, a call up for England's 2014 World Cup squad seems very unlikely. Yet stranger things have happened. Much like Austin, Vinnie Jones started playing semi-professional football while working on building sites. He went on to play for a handful of Premier League clubs and represented Wales in several World Cup qualifiers. A similar career path––discounting the post-football movie stardom––is not completely out of the question for Burnley's main man.

Charlie Austin's future is full of all kinds of potential, but for now, Messi and Ronaldo have some catching up to do.