When lionel Messi scored his 48th goal of the season for Barcelona against Shakhtar Donetsk, he set a club record, overtaking the 47 that Ronaldo scored in 1996-97. What is even more remarkable is that Barcelona have at least 10 more matches this season, thereby giving Messi the chance to continue into uncharted scoring territory.
From his current position, it would be a surprise if Messi did not reach beyond those immediately ahead of him from the very modern era. Mario Jardel and Henrik Larsson scored 55 and 53 goals respectively in individual seasons. They did so, however, in the Portuguese and Scottish leagues respectively, both of which were weaker than today's Spanish league. La Liga is second in the Uefa co-efficient of domestic leagues and is host to most of the world's finest footballers, as well as the Spanish national team being world and European champions.
In the unlikely event that Messi scores no more goals this season, his current record will still be astonishing. He lies two short of a half-century, having scored 29 in 28 La Liga games, nine in 10 in the Champions League, seven in six in the cup and three in two in the Supercup. Moreover, he has the opportunity from here to push ever further into the stratosphere of goal-scoring achievement, as well as adding to his bounteous medal collection.
Barça play in the Clasico at Real Madrid on Saturday evening, and a victory in the Bernabeu would give them a near-insurmountable 11-point lead over their rivals with six league games left. Just four days after that, the two teams meet again, at the Mestalla to play the Copa del Rey final. Messi will be looking to achieve one of the few things he has not yet managed; to score against a side managed by Jose Mourinho, despite eight previous chances to do so.
Barcelona's remaining league games, at home to Osasuna, Espanyol and Deportivo, and away at Real Sociedad, Levante and Malaga, should provide Messi with sufficient chances to push towards Dixie Dean's 63 goals, amassed for Everton in 1927-28. In among those league fixtures are two Champions League semi-finals and, he will be hoping, a final at Wembley.
Messi has already won the European Cup, and scored in the 2009 final. His record in the elite club competition is another powerful argument for his brilliance, should any more be needed. On the least flat track of them all, in the tournament which Sir Alex Ferguson believes has superseded the World Cup as the apogee of football, Messi was top scorer with nine in 2009 and again with eight in 2010. So far this year he is top again, with nine.
On Tuesday, Barcelona knocked out Shakhtar, the only goal of the second leg coming from Messi, who shifted the ball from his right foot to his left before stabbing it home. "Our main shortcoming was our lack of Lionel Messi," said Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu. "If he played for us, I'm sure we would have beaten Barcelona."
Messi v Ronaldo
2010-11 Season 1996-97
48 (46) Goals (games) 47 (49)
23 Age 20
29 (28) La Liga goals (games) 34 (37)
9 (10) Europe 5 (7)
7 (6) Copa del Rey 8 (5)
3 (2) Spanish Supercup n/a
Highest scorers in a European season:
66 F Deak (Hun), Ferencvaros 1948-49
63 D Dean (Eng), Everton 1927-28
56 G Zsengeller (Hun), Ujpes 1938-39
55 M Jardel (Bra), Sporting 2001-02
53 H Larsson (Swe), Celtic 2000-01