Last night, Leo Messi became the all-time leading scorer in La Liga after his hat-trick in Barcelona’s 5-1 victory over Sevilla. He has now scored a quite extraordinary 253 league goals and breaks former Athletic Bilbao striker Telmo Zarra’s record of 251 goals which has stood since 1955. Given that Messi is only 27, and unlikely to leave Barcelona, what might his tally stand at by the time he hangs up his boots?
When he does, it will be the end of one of the most incredible careers ever. I’ve said before that I currently put Messi second on the all-time greats list to Maradona. Even if Argentina had beaten Germany in the World Cup final, I wouldn’t have promoted Messi to top spot as he’d become a lethargic and peripheral figure in the tournament from about the quarter finals stage. His sparkling form earlier in the tournament was a joy to behold but came mostly against rather limited opponents.
Messi’s league goals break down as follows: 206 with his wand of a left foot, 38 with his rather underused right foot, eight with his head, and apparently one with his hand (there’s no end to the Maradona resemblance).
I witnessed one of those goals at the Nou Camp in February 2010. Barcelona beat Malaga 2-1 and Messi scored a late winner, tapping in with his right foot from a low cut back from Dani Alves. The move that created the goal was exquisite and highlighted much of what made that Barca side stand out: the patience in possession even when chasing a winner, the willingness to receive the ball in tight spaces, and then play a defence-splitting pass at exactly the right moment. Messi’s finish was the simplest touch of the whole move.
He’s scored many that were anything but simple of course including the one against Getafe as a 19 year old which was uncannily similar to Maradona’s famous second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. The poise and balance in each case is balletic. Messi has always succeeded in making the sublime seem ridiculously simple.
The most impressive thing about Messi is that he’s never lost that boyish enthusiasm for having the ball at his feet and scoring goals. He’s the kid who would always be knocking on your door, ball in hand, asking if you were coming out for a game.
Inevitably he was labelled the ‘new Maradona’ when he burst onto the scene. As a small, left footed and prodigiously talented Argentinean, that was hardly surprising. But for all the similarities they are quite different players and it stems I think from their very different personalities. Maradona is brash and individualistic while Messi is far less extrovert and appears much happier to blend into the team.
For a country to produce one of them would consider itself blessed, but to produce both? Well, that looks like the hand of God at work.