Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lionel Messi: Greatest of All Time?

"Lionel Messi won an unprecedented fourth FIFA Ballon d'Or award on January 7, lifting him above three-time FIFA winners Zinedine Zidane of France and Brazil's Ronaldo. Barcelona players have now won 10 times in the 22 years that FIFA has awarded a world's-best prize. In 2010, the FIFA world player honor merged with the Ballon d'Or prize awarded to Europe-based players since 1956 by `France Football' magazine."

The statistics are staggering, the milestones apparently endless and the performances continue to defy belief.

At 25, Lionel Messi is reaching the peak of his powers. It is difficult to see how he can improve having found a rate of scoring few thought possible and married it to an incredible level of consistency.

The debate about whether he is the greatest of them all can wait, but the phenomenal speed with which he is breaking records cannot be ignored.

Messi broke the 39-year record for most goals in a European club season in 2012 when he finished the season with 79. He also became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match. The Barcelona forward is a three-time FIFA Player of the Year and is expected take a record-fourth Ballon d’Or for 2012.

Messi has set new records at such a rate during his career as to render them almost meaningless. This one, however, is significant.

During the calendar year, Leo scored a record 91 goals combined in all competitions for Barcelona and the Argentina national side, shattering the mark of 85 tallied by Gerd Muller for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

It was a record many thought would stand forever - untouchable until the boy from Rosario, Argentina arrived on the scene.

Udo Lattek, who managed Mueller at Bayern Munich in 1972, the season the German set the record, said: "Gerd was my best player but he was different from Messi. Leo is a better player. He is the best there is, a marvel of football, like a god.

"Without Messi, Barcelona is Barcelona. But with him, they are the best in the world."

Mueller was a fearsome competitor. With a powerful build and a low centre of gravity, "Der Bomber" had the strength to resist most defenders and coupled that with an incredible habit of finding the net however unlikely the situation.

His ruthlessness in front of goal set him apart, both for club and country, and he ended his Bayern career with 365 goals in 427 league appearances. For Germany, he found the net 68 times in 62 matches.

Where Mueller was a poacher and a finisher, Messi is much more. His bewildering repertoire of faints and swerves, sudden stops and bursts of pace are allied to tremendous physical strength for such a slight figure.

His goal-scoring in 2012 has been staggering, even by his standards.

In the first five months of the year he became only the third player to win the Ballon d'Or three times, the joint top scorer (with 14 goals) in a single European Cup season, the first player to score five goals in a single game in the Champions League era, the youngest player to reach 150 La Liga goals, and Barcelona's all-time top scorer.

He also broke the record for the most competitive goals (68) scored in a single European season, also previously held by Mueller. He has won 19 trophies, more than any other at his age.

On his way to beating Mueller's record, Messi has scored six hat-tricks, twice scored four goals and on one occasion scored five. There have been highs and more highs, with his best run of form seeing him score 24 goals in 13 matches. His longest goal "drought" lasted all of three matches.

Incredibly, he has scored 48% of Barcelona's goals in 2012, the club winning 91% of their matches when he has scored and just 47% when he has not.

What is more the statistics show that in 2012, Messi actually gets better as the game wears on and is more likely to score in the final 14 minutes than at any other time in the match. As defenders' legs grow weary, the Argentine comes into his own.

More information:
» FC Barcelona Signs Messi through Mid-2018, $21.2 Million
» Forbes India: Lionel Messi is Human
» Not an Official FIFA Record, Pele Scored 127 in 1959
» Ronaldinho, 32, is Playing for Atletico Mineiro in Brazil

FIFA presented their FIFPro World XI awards during the FIFA Ballon d'or awards ceremony. The following players were recognized as the best XI of 2012: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain), Daniel Alves (Barcelona, Brazil), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spain), Gerard Pique (Barcelona, Spain), Marcelo (Real Madrid, Brazil), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid, Spain), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona, Spain), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain), Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal) and Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid, Colombia).

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