Some arguments are never settled. And probably, never will be.
Lionel Messi‘s record-breaking 86th goal caps a range of 20 doubles, six hat-tricks, two quadruples and a fiver. It may have broken Gerd Mueller’s 40-year-old record of 85 goals in a season and it may well get him a fourth World Player of the Year award.
Gerd Mueller’s record withstood careers of greats like Johan Cruyff and Maradona, with players only able to dream of reaching a landmark like that. Until of course, Lionel Messi erupted on the football scene. He may shrug off the record in his usual modest style, but it is one which only he may be able to break.
Mueller’s record consisted of 72 goals for Bayern Munich and 13 for West Germany in the year 1972. He was 27 at the time and his tally took 60 games to achieve. Messi has taken 66 matches to break his record. Eerily, he is just 25.
But, here’s where Messi-doubters thrive: Mueller scored 68 goals in 62 matches for his country, Pele scored 77 goals in 92 appearances for Brazil, Bobby Charlton and Maradona–as attacking midfielders–scored 49 (106 games) and 34 (91 games) for their countries respectively and Ronaldo scored 62 times in 98 matches for Brazil.
And they all have one thing in common — they’ve won the World Cup, a trophy that cannot be replaced by Messi’s five La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues.
Messi has scored just one goal in all his World Cup appearances while compatriot Gabriel Batistuta scored 10 and Maradona eight. That is where he loses out on his popularity in Argentina.
There is no doubting Messi’s talent… he is, by far, one of the top five players to have ever graced a football pitch. But in a critical appraisal, one has to ask will he be the same if he was not flanked by the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Add to that the fact that this is an era where a pinch is a foul, stars are protected, yellow cards are shown out of boredom and referees get death threats for bold decisions.
Messi’s greatness lies in his team. The little Argentine is fiercely loyal to Barcelona because probably somewhere he knows he won’t do as well in any other team in the world. He has been playing with the same players since they were 8-years-old. They could train blind-folded and still finish their passes.
It is the accuracy of Xavi, the flicks of Iniesta and the fact that they allow Messi a free-role that gets the best out of him. Take half his team away from him, and Messi is half the player. Just the opposite of someone like Tiger Woods.
And then there are players like Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese has 118 goals for Manchester United and 167 goals for Real Madrid while playing as a winger. Maradona scored goals wherever he went. So did Just Fontaine and so does Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The question whether Messi can do the same will remain unanswered, maybe forever.
The Argentine’s story is that of inspiration— one from where he went as a child plagued with growth hormone deficiency to being crowned as the world’s best player thrice.
Watching Messi play is surreal, almost animated. His movement with the ball glued to his feet–rapid, his incisive passes, his balance– like a water dancer, and his ability to find the net from insane angles makes him one of the best ever.
And cruelly enough, till he does something special for his country, he will remain that — not the best, but just one of the best.