Lionel Messi’s exploits with Barcelona have elevated him into the discussion of greatest player ever, alongside Pele and Diego Maradona. Messi, has won the last four Ballon d’Or trophies as the world’s best footballer, and at 25 is arguably only just entering his prime.
The most amazing thing about him though, is the number of goals he scores. In 2012, Messi scored 86 goals to break Gerd Mueller’s 40-year-old record of 85 goals scored in a calendar year. Mueller, nicknamed ‘Der Bomber’, was one of international football’s greatest goal scorers, averaging more than a goal a game in his career for Germany (68 goals from 62 games). That Messi had toppled Mueller not only added to the chorus of voices singing his praises, but also lent weight to the argument that he is one of the best goal scorers in football history.
But what about his ability to score goals in big games? Scoring four goals against the likes of Osasuna is one thing. Scoring them under high pressure when the team needs them most requires a temperament that thrives when the stakes are highest.
On ESPNFC, Miguel Delaney has attempted to determine which goal-scorer has been the best at rising to the occasion. To so he looked at records from four types of games: a must-win game in an international tournament, including group matches; domestic cup finals and semi-finals, games against the top three in a domestic league, or an historic rival; any other league game or qualifier where a result was absolutely necessary.
The analysis also covers only scoring records and not general performance. It cannot legislate for the manner in which Roy Keane dominated Juventus in the 1999 Champions League semifinal, or the way in which Diego Maradona cut open the West German defence with one pass to win the 1986 World Cup. How, meanwhile, to quantify Johan Cruyff's complete control of the 1973 European Cup final?
’As such, this list does not mean any of these were "better" big-game players; they just performed a much more quantifiable role.
The results showed that Messi is indeed among the world’s historic best in big games, but he still trails one man – Pele. Pele topped all three lists created by Delaney – the most likely player to decide a big game; percentage of big games in which a player scored; and ratio of goals scored to big games played.
Pele scored the decisive goal in 12 of the 31 big games he played in, giving him a ratio of 0.39. Messi came in second on this list, with 16 goals from 41 games, giving him a ratio of 0.37. He was closely followed by Brazilian forward Ronaldo, who had 35 goals from 97 games for a ratio of 0.36.
Pele’s ratio of games scored in was 0.61, having scored in 19 out of 31 games. He was followed by Portuguese great Eusebio, who scored 18 times from 33 games, for a ratio of 0.55. Messi tied for fifth with a ratio of 0.49, alongside Ronaldo and Michel Platini.
Pele also scored an astounding 32 goals from his 31 games, giving him a ratio of 1.03, or just slightly more than a goal a game. Messi was fourth on this list, with a ratio of 0.79, having scored 31 goals in 41 games. Eusebio was second on this list too, having knocked in 27 goals from 33 games for a ratio of 0.81, while Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano was third with 49 goals from 63 games for a ratio of 0.78
Read the full analysis here.