Messi raises the bar to a height only he can reach
Lionel Messi didn’t hang around. He was sent on as a substitute against Benfica and sent through, one on one with the goalkeeper. The next thing anyone knew, he was on the floor; then he was on a stretcher, lying still in the silence, 50,000 people not making a sound.
The clock had been ticking into the 85th minute and Messi was looking for his 85th goal of 2012, another record: no one had ever scored more goals in a year. He clashed with the goalkeeper, his knee shifting with the impact, but he chased the loose ball and, falling now, took on a shot. Like the final, defiant gesture of a dying man. “I thought it was the last time I would kick a ball in a very long time,” he said.
That was on Wednesday night. On Thursday – just 23 minutes into Thursday, in fact – it was revealed that it was just bruising. On Friday he was in the gym, alone. On Saturday, he trained with his team-mates. On Sunday morning he was on a plane to Seville.
“If he’s coming, it’s because he can play,” said the Barcelona coach, Tito Vilanova. And on Sunday night, the news was out: Messi starts. At nine o’clock, four days after everyone feared that his chances had gone, from everything to nothing in a second, the record cruelly taken away, he lined up with his team-mates. It had almost escaped him; there was no way he was letting that happen again.
Sixteen minutes later, he equalled the record; nine minutes after that he had broken it. In your own time, Leo.
The previous record, 85, was held by Gerd ‘Torpedo’ Müller, the man who was on the verge of signing for Barcelona in 1973, only for the deal to fall through because the German government intervened.
Barcelona signed Johan Cruyff instead. “Muller, torpedoed,” ran the headline in Marca. In 1972, Müller scored 42 goals in 34 games in the league, seven in six in the Cup, 12 in five in the League Cup, 10 in four in the European Cup, one in four in the Cup Winners’ Cup and 13 in seven for Germany.
Messi has now scored 86 in 2012: 56 in 36 league games, three in seven in the Cup, two in two in the Super Copa, 13 in 12 in the Champions League and 12 in nine for Argentina. He already has 23 league goals this season, enough to have won the Pichichi award 26 times.
Of course there are some expressing doubts, from the difficulty of the feat to the importance of the goals, to the relevance of the record and even its veracity: football is normally measured by seasons, not years; in ’72 Müller won everything there was to win, including the European Championship with Germany, Messi has claimed only the Copa del Rey in 2012; Müller took fewer games, averaging 1.41 goals a game to Messi’s 1.3; and Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance is such that records are falling with startling regularity.