Early Doors

Messi’s 86 goals not a proper record

It is borderline heretical to question Lionel Messi's achievements in football - to do so requires Samir Nasri-esque reserves of courage - but allow Early Doors to retain a sliver of scepticism when digesting the news that last night the Barcelona forward broke Gerd Mueller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year.

This is self-evidently a fantastic achievement. Messi is scoring at a rate that few thought possible since football swapped leather balls for synthetic spheres and cloth shirts for dri-fit kit, especially considering the vast majority of his matches have been in La Liga and the Champions League - reputedly two of the hardest competitions on earth.

The ease with which Messi destroys opponents is reflected in the quite ridiculous stat that he has not scored once in La Liga all season. When he does score, he does so at least twice, even against Real Madrid. He's a supernatural force, indisputably the greatest player of his generation, probably ever.

Yet despite this, his tally of 86 goals in 2012 is not one of the great records. Not in the same way that Dixie Dean's 60 league goals in a season or Just Fontaine's 13 goals at one World Cup are anyway.

This comes down to one simple fact: we don't measure football in years, we measure it in seasons, and outside of Brazil and a few other leagues scattered around the globe, that means the frame of reference for medium-term goalscoring feats - i.e. those that fall between goals in a game and goals in a career - stretches from August to May. To paraphrase David Brent: "that's the real quiz."

The end of a season is a clear demarcation point; the beginning of a new one the chance to start afresh with a clean slate, to start the clock back at zero. That is why stats you hear on the first day of a season - "Manchester United are now unbeaten in five" - are such blatant rubbish.

For ED's money, Messi's ridiculous tally of 50 league goals in the 2011-12 season is the more enduring statistic than his total goals in 2012 - well, at least until he breaks that record in May, anyway.

It is for the same reason that awarding individual prizes in January doesn't feel right. Didier Drogba was a worthy inclusion on the long list for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, but no one would pretend that the six months he has spent with Shanghai Shenhua in 2012 came into the equation at all.

UEFA's decision to decide the destination of its clumsily named Best Player in Europe Award in August is far more reasonable. It fits with the ebb and flow of the football calendar that we know and cherish.

The Mueller mark, impressive though it is, seems only to have been dredged up in recent months as a target for Messi to attain. It all feels a bit manufactured.

Could anyone cite Mueller's 85 goals off the top of their head? No, they had to go back through the record books to check.

The fact Mueller is one of football's iconic strikers helped to sell it as a genuine 'thing', as did the fact they both wore Adidas boots, but it isn't, not really. Back in May, when Messi scored his 50th league goal for the season, was anyone aware of Mueller's mark at all?

Now before you start accusing ED of being a bitter Cristiano fan boy (its favourite player is Luis Suarez anyway, as you all know) it should be pointed out that it's not only ED who is treating talk of this new Messi record with a pinch of salt.

One of Opta's UK staff described it as a "b******t record" on Twitter yesterday, rightly asking whether Mueller had indeed set the highest previous tally. Has anyone checked all the leagues in all the world to see whether a random from the Eritrean top flight may have scored 86 or more in any given 12-month period? It seems unlikely.

Even Messi didn't seem entirely overwhelmed by his feat on Sunday night, even if it was, as Barca coach Tito Vilanova suggested, "absolutely brutal."

"The record is great for what it means, but the most important thing is that the team won and that we maintained the distance with the teams behind us," Messi said.

"When the year starts the objective is to win it all with the team, personal records are secondary. I'll try to score more goals to make it more difficult for the next player that tries to break it."

There's no doubt about that. Barcelona have three games remaining in 2012 - Cordoba in the Copa del Rey and Atletico Madrid and Real Valladolid in La Liga - and it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that Messi could take his tally beyond 90.

Beyond this season, Messi will retire as the greatest player to have played the game. He will be by some distance the highest scorer in the history of Barcelona, La Liga, the Champions League and possibly top-level football, though quantifying that comes with its own pitfalls and controversies. Just ask Romario, scorer of '1,000 goals'.

He might have scored the most goals in a calendar year, but Messi will break bigger and better records before he is done.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Whoever threw that coin, what a shot! Can't believe it was a copper 2p...could have at least been a £1 coin! Respect to Joe Hart for protecting that idiot who ran on!! Love the banter between fans but there is a point when it goes too far...calm it!" - Rio Ferdinand reacts with good humour to being caught above the eye with a missile thrown from the City end during a 3-2 derby win for Manchester United on Sunday. The incident has provoked a Football Association investigation.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I scored five in a game when I was little in Bogota. And I got four playing for Porto against Villarreal, but never five as a professional." - It wasn't just Messi grabbing the headlines in La Liga as Falcao scored an astonishing five goals in Atletico Madrid's 6-0 home win over Deportivo La Coruna. What this means, of course, is that Chelsea will now have to pay even more to sign him in January.

COMING UP: We have some Premier League action tonight with Newcastle United playing away at Fulham. That kicks off at 8pm. Prior to that, we bring you the European and Premier League teams of the week, while Jan Molby also gives us his verdict on the Manchester derby and Mario Balotelli.

We also have extensive highlights from all of the weekend's Premier League games, so get stuck in.