Football’s greatest – Pelé, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Alfredo Di Stéfano amongst others – may already have been surpassed by a 25-year-old.
Lionel Messi has broken a 40-year-old record for the most goals in a calendar year, the latest milestone in an astonishing career filled with personal accolades. Messi scored a brace last night in Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Real Betis in La Liga, a game in which he equalled then surpassed German legend Gerd Muller’s once seemingly unbeatable mark of 85 goals (in 60 games) achieved in 1972. His goal ratio is one goal every 63 minutes this year.
Messi, who received the Golden Boot after finishing top scorer in Europe last season, has now scored 86 goals in 2012 (in just 66 games). He also recently exceeded the record held by the player usually regarded as the best of all time - Pelé managed 75 goals in 1959. Messi has already scored over 300 career goals.
Barcelona lead the Spanish league standings after winning 14 of their first 15 games but despite this record achievement, the Catalan giants have once again been overshadowed by the latest exploits of football’s most remarkable and arguably greatest ever player. He is also now Barcelona’s top goalscorer in La Liga after overtaking the record of 190 goals held by César Rodríguez.
As well his ability to score goals on a regular basis and dribble past opponents, his vision and passing tends to be overlooked. Messi has assisted his teammates on 29 occasions in 2012, which demonstrates his unique talent once again.
Last season, Messi celebrated more landmarks after making history with the unprecedented feat of a 50-goal haul in the league as well as equalling the record for goals scored in a Uefa Champions League season. He is the only player to have won the top scorer award four years in a row in Europe’s elite club competition.
He has already surpassed the achievements of some of the greatest ever players in Barcelona’s history to become the club’s all-time top scorer (which he achieved at 24-years-old). As well as his individual accolades he has also won the Uefa Champions League three times with Barcelona, as well as five Spanish league titles.
The statistics as well as his exploits on the pitch show Messi is the best player of his era and may be unparalleled in the history of the game by the time he retires - despite the presence of his extraordinary rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi has been recognised as the world’s best player on three straight occasions. He received the Fifa Ballon d’Or award – the top individual honour in football.- in 2010, 2011 and the Fifa World Player of the Year award in 2009 (which was merged with the Ballon d’Or the following year).
Messi, who was likened to a ‘Playstation player’ by Arsène Wenger after a four-goal haul against Arsenal in 2010, is the overwhelming favourite to once again be crowned the best player in the world this year despite facing competition from his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the virtuoso Andrés Iniesta and the best midfielder of the modern era – Xavi.
Johann Cruyff wrote in his column for Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that instead of comparing great players, we should enjoy the fact we live in a time where we can watch Messi and Ronaldo on a weekly basis.
The Dutch icon also praised the Argentine: “What everyone should be especially happy about is that every era has its own heroes. Why would one be less than the other? Pele was a hero in his time, I was in my period and Messi’s time is now. He is a joy to behold.”
Stats magic: Messi in numbers
21 The Barcelona player has already scored 21 goals this season
29 As well as his goalscoring exploits, Messi has 29 assists in 2012
314 Messi has now scored 314 goals in his professional career, 283 goals for Barcelona in 352 games and 31 goals for Argentina in 76 games.
56 Messi is Barcelona’s top scorer in the Champions League, overtaking Rivaldo’s haul two-years ago, and is currently the third top scorer in the history of the Champions League (since 1992-93) with 56 goals (Real Madrid legend Raul leads with 71 goals).
74 He has scored 74 goals for his club in 2012 and 12 goals for his country.
12 He has managed 12 goals for Argentina in 2012 in just nine games.
9 Messi has nine hat-tricks this calendar year, seven for Barcelona and two for Argentina.
15 The Argentine is the first Barcelona player to score 15 hat-tricks in La Liga. He has scored 21 hat-tricks for his club in all competitions.
56 Messi has now scored 56 league goals for Barcelona in 2012, beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 43 La Liga goals in a calendar year (2011).
50 In May this year Messi achieved the unprecedented feat of scoring 50 goals in a league season.
14 Messi in 2011-2012 and José Altafini (Milan) in 1962–63 have the record for most goals in one season in the Uefa Champions League.
2 Messi is the only player to score two hat-tricks in a Uefa Champions League season (2011–12).
5 Messi is the only player to have scored 5 goals in a single match in the Champions League era (10 players have managed the feat in European Cup era).
You can follow the writer on Twitter: @Majid_Mohamed