Records fall, Messi-merised yet?
After a season that was dominated by the men in white, eventually, Messi warranted as much print space for breaking a long-standing record set 39 years ago by German goal-scoring machine Gerd Mueller who had scored 67 in Bayern Munich colours. Tomojit Basu writes. Messi Barca's top scorer | Messi: the goal machine | Kolkata: Messi in action | Another record for 'goal machine'sports Updated: May 04, 2012 09:55 IST
Even during Real Madrid's moment of glory, it appears that Lionel Messi has rained on Jose Mourinho's parade. Not that clinching the Spanish title at Bilbao's San Mames fortress, itself a first in Real's 32nd league triumph, was a cinch even if Mesut Ozil, Gonzao Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo would have you think otherwise. But after a season that was dominated by the men in white, eventually, Messi warranted as much print space for breaking a long-standing record set 39 years ago by German goal-scoring machine Gerd Mueller who had scored 67 in Bayern Munich colours.
The record-breaking 68th goal in his European season had Messi's trademark style stamped all over it. Barcelona midfield maestro Andres Iniesta sent the Argentine clear into the Malaga half with deft pass and Messi chipped over the charging Cameroonian keeper Carlos Kameni before slotting his 46th league goal of the season into the empty net. Certainly, a bittersweet finish to an evening that saw rivals Real break his side's three-year grip on the La Liga crown.
While Barca stand at the threshold of a possible barren season (which, quite honestly, is as much of a surprise as Chelsea contesting the Champions League final) despite the possibility of a Copa Del Rey title in what will be Blaugrana coach Pep Guardiola's final outing with the club, Messi's achievements this season will be remembered for a while to come.
The diminutive attacker had already set a Champions League record with 14 goals this season including a jaw-dropping five in a 7-1 rout of Bayer Leverkusen in the Round of 16 (another record, surprise surprise). For a while it appeared that Messi would be re-scripting the history books of European football on a weekly basis.
However, his performances in the big clashes - the Champions League semis against Chelsea and the El Clasico defeat - were less than inspiring but that should not take anything away from an accolade like this one. The fact that Mueller's record stood for as long as it did bears testament to just how difficult a feat it is, more so in the modern game where speed, video replays and perhaps physicality arguably play a much bigger role.
The debate regarding Messi being superior to Maradona will continue for a while. Even the older Argentine's Albiceleste teammate Oscar Ardiles had once told TIME Magazine, "One of the reasons I think Messi is better than Maradona and Pelé is evolution. People before say Pelé was running 5,000, 6,000 meters. Now they are running 9,000 meters. Now players eat better, train better, the pitches are better. So this is why I believe Messi is the very best ever."
Perhaps Brazil 2014 will settle it once and for all, although it really is a little banal to compare such prodigious athletes and not even have the Garrinchas, Peles, Cruyffs, Platinis and Zidanes among others in the reckoning. Pointless, really.
At this stage, the only concern this writer harbours is what can be expected of the 24-year-old genius once Guardiola, whose presence was pivotal in Messi's transformation as a player, leaves at the end of the season?
His decision to not restrict Messi to the wings and allowing him to play through the middle of the 4-3-3 in his first season (the 2008-09 treble win) marked a shift in the Argentine's goal-scoring fortunes. In the season prior to Guardiola taking the Catalonian reins, Messi had netted 16 times in 40 matches while having never crossed the 20-goal barrier. Messi post-Pep? 38 goals in 51 matches in all competitions followed by 47 and 53 strikes respectively with a total of 35 assists over the next two seasons.
Even Michael Jordan needed a Phil Jackson and one would hope that Guardiola's faith in Tito Vilanova will help the team return to winning ways next season while helping Messi provide many more entertaining evenings to those around the world who trust his ingenious flair to leave a lasting legacy for this generation of viewers and players alike.