By Rupert Fryer
Record after record after record. He’s already taken so much from so many and yet still he lurks in search of more, with Gerd Muller’s incredible total of 85 goals in a single calendar year the latest to be blown away by Lionel Messi.
The Barcelona forward’s list of achievements is, quite frankly, staggering. But perhaps the most remarkable number of all is 25: at just 25-years-old, Messi could hang up his boots tomorrow and still be proud of a career right up there with the best we've ever seen.
Indeed, he may well be the greatest the game has ever witnessed. At least there’s no denying that one could legitimately argue the fact. And he’s not done yet; far from it. Of all his remarkable attributes, the Argentina international’s unquenchable thirst for the game may well be his most potent weapon of all. The latest in an extraordinary long line of feats has just been reached, but there can be no doubt that Lionel Messi’s attentions are already turned towards those yet be achieved.
BARCELONA & LA LIGA
Messi has laid waste to La Liga since Frank Rijkaard handed the then 16-year-old his full debut against Espanyol. We had been warned, with Ronaldinho responding to the question of whether he was the greatest player in the world by saying, “The best in the world? I’m not even the best player at Barcelona.” The Brazilian knew. And minutes into his La Liga bow, the rest of us were already finding out. Countless accolades have fallen by the wayside in the eight years since that historic evening at Camp Nou.
Realistically, one would imagine Messi has at least seven more seasons with Barca to come and so, depending on when Xavi decides to call time on his own wonderful epoch, it’s not inconceivable that the Spain international’s all-time appearance record can be reached before Messi decides to end his career back in his hometown with boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.
Messi has also beaten Cesar Rodriguez’s La Liga goals record for Barca, and Paulino Alcantara’s overall total of 369 should be reached over the next couple of seasons; as should Telmo Zarra’s all-time La Liga total of 252.
BARCELONA & CHAMPIONS LEAGUE/EUROPE
Alfredo Di Stefano made the European Cup what it was, and can justifiably claim to be the godfather of European club competition as a whole. Raul, however, leads the pack in terms of the history of Uefa’s Champions League. Five years from now, however, that mantel will likely have crossed the divide and made its way north to Catalunya. In the modern game, the highest standard of all is to be found as those go in pursuit of the cup with the big ears – a trophy little Leo has already held above his head on three occasions.
With La Masia promising a fruitful future both at home and against continental opposition, it’s hard to imagine the Blaugrana not being there or thereabouts over the next few years. And their talisman still has some unfinished business.
Raul’s total of 144 Champions League appearances doesn’t seem too far out of his reach, and if he sticks around at Camp Nou for another seven seasons then it’s a number he may well reach. Raul’s goal record, however, will almost certainly be obliterated within the next couple of years, as will the former Real Madrid man’s record of 73 in European competition.
Already joint-top scorer in this season’s Champions League, and having been crowned the competition’s top marksman in the past four seasons, Gerd Muller’s record of taking the accolade on four occasions looks extremely short-lived.
He’s already beaten Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s 12 goals in one Champions League campaign, and Jose Altafini, too, will be concerned his record will soon be taken outright, especially if Barca are drawn in a particularly weak group at some stage.
To match Di Stefano’s five European Cup final appearances will be no easy feat but if he does make it, then the same player’s total of seven goals in the final could certainly fall.
ARGENTINA & INTERNATIONALS
Messi can’t do it for his country. He doesn’t sing the national anthem. He’s a Catalan. That’s what they said, despite what was, individually, an impressive World Cup 2010 campaign for the boy from Rosario.
Since Alejandro Sabella’s appointment, however, the naysayer can be pessimistic no more. 2012 was the year Messi shut his critics up for good, equalling Gabriel Batisutua’s total of 12 goals in a calendar year for his country as Los Albicelestes cruised into first place in Conmebol World Cup qualifying. One imagines he’ll waste no time in surpassing Diego Maradona’s record of 33 goals – as recognised by Fifa – before setting his sights on that of Batigol.
With the increased number of Fifa dates and the importance of Messi to the AFA’s marketing power, surpassing Javier Zanetti’s record of 145 caps for Argentina doesn’t appear to be miles out of his reach; that Messi misses so few games through injury suggests his body may well serve the test of time like that of the super-human Inter veteran. Lothar Matthaus’ 25 World Cup finals appearances remains quite an ask, however, even if Fifa expand the tournament in the coming years.
Follow Rupert Fryer on