Everyone has said everything there is to say about him and yet everyone who writes about the game seems to be drawn irresistibly towards superlative-laden odes. And for good reason: Lionel Messi is something else. He has participated in 46 competitive matches this year for Barça and he has scored 48 goals. 29 in the league, 7 in the Copa del Rey, 9 in the Champions League, and 3 in the Super Copa de España.
But it’s not really his goal scoring that has been so spectacular. He is also leading Spain in assists thanks to his ever-improving vision and understanding of the game. He is, of course, surrounded by a corps of unbelievably good players—Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Dani Alves to name just 3—but he can still at times seem miles ahead of them.
Against Shakhtar he took over for a moment and his silky skills, the ball glued to his foot as per usual, made sure that the players who challenged him were left cleaving air like participants in amateur night. His goals sometimes seem like an afterthought, as if he’s having too much fun dribbling to bother with a shot and then bloop he chips the keeper. Manuel Almunia must hate the little guy.
Statistically, there’s never been anyone better in a Barça shirt. At least not in a single season. Ronaldo—the real Ronaldo—scored 47 in 49 matches in 1996-97; Messi himself scored 47 in 53 last season. With at least 10 matches remaining, he’s on pace to score 58 and maybe a 59th if Barça makes it to the Champions League final. Yowza.
It’s somewhat absurd to add up what he might do because anything can happen, but with Raul scoring his 71st European goal, I wondered what kind of a pace Messi was on in those competitions. He’s got 34 Champions League goals in 54 appearances, 26 of them over them over the last 2 seasons and this one. If he keeps up that scoring pace, he’ll have 71 goals in only 47 more matches, which, if he continues to play the same number of matches as he has over that same time period, means 4 and a half seasons. Fall of 2015, when he’s 27.
But of course he never scores against Mourinho-led teams, so you’ll have to subtract those matches from his potential. Or wait until Saturday, Wednesday, the next Wednesday, and the following Tuesday to make that assessment. Will Madrid be able to keep The Little Man Who Could off the scoreboard? My money is on Leo.
[Updated: the year Ronaldo played for Barcelona was 1996-97, not 1999-2000 as first written. -Isaiah]
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