Thanksgiving football: Messi vs. Müller

You were expecting biology while I’m on a trip? Sorry, but you get food, beer and football for another week.

Yes, I didn’t call it “soccer” this time because some nit-pickers (who always begin their posts by saying, “I don’t mean to nitpick but . . . “), would patiently explain to me that I must call it football. But I digress. On October 30 our resident football expert, Seamus Malin, named Lionel Messi the best football player of all time. This is no snap judgement: Seamus broadcast football for 40 years, and has seen all the greats of our era.

As reported by the New York Times, and as most of you football buffs know, Lionel Messi of Barcelona is closing in on a long-standing record:

With two controlled swings of the deadliest left foot in soccer, Lionel Messi moved two steps closer to breaking a 40-year-old goal-scoring record that, until recently, looked as if it would not be challenged.

Messi’s contributions not only helped Barcelona maintain its unbeaten start to the Spanish league season — his two goals setting up Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Real Zaragoza — but also propelled him to within seven goals of matching Gerd Müller’s world record for goals in a calendar year.

Müller, the great striker who won a World Cup, European Championship and four West German titles during his career with West Germany and Bayern Munich, scored 85 goals in 1972. Messi, with a maximum of eight matches left in 2012, has 78.

Remember, too, that Messi is only 25 years old! The Times ponders whether Müller’s record might be stronger, given that he played in fewer games, but such comparisons are subjective at best.

Despite his lack of bulk, the 5-foot-7 Messi bullies defenders with his grace and unrivaled close control of the ball, which at times make it appear as if  the ball is glued to Messi’s feet. By contrast, Müller was a squat and powerful 5-9.

The cleverness of Messi’s play is matched by a lethal accuracy in front of goal; Messi, who scored only one goal in his first 14 games for Barcelona, now regularly shatters scoring records.

In addition to his five Spanish championships, three Champions Leagues titles and numerous individual awards, Messi has already smashed Müller’s record of 67 goals in a single European season — scoring 73 times during the 2011-12 season. He is also Barcelona’s career scoring leader.

Barcelona Coach Tito Vilanova recently said of Messi: “His goal tally is spectacular. It takes other great players seven or eight seasons to score the amount of goals he scores in one season.”

But for all the records, there is one left to break. With eight more goals in his final eight games, Messi can achieve perhaps the ultimate goal-scoring feat.

Let’s forget about the comparison and just see some of their highlights: it’s a traditional American custom to watch sports after Thanksgiving dinner.

Gerd Müller:

Lionel Messi (the goal beginning at 7:40 is unbelievable, reminiscent of Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final):


  1. Veroxitatis
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Well, my vote still goes to the late George Best of Man Untd. (Pity his NI compatriots were not of his standing or he would have been recognised as a great international player) Perhaps his most unbelievable goal however was in 1981 with the San Hose Eartquakes – NASL, when past his best. Just my opinion.

    • gravityfly
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Agreed! I’ve never seen anyone, not even Messi or Pele, with the ball control of Bestie. If he played for a different country (Brazil, Germany, etc,) there would be no doubt as to who is the greatest of all time.

      Big weakness for booze and partying, though—one reason for his downfall.

  2. Bonzodog
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    If you hurry up I bet you will be able to get tickets to see a proper sport…. Scotland are losing^h^h^h^h^h^h^h playing Tonga tomorrow …

  3. Billy
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a good goal for you

    • Billy
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I did think I removed the http: But my browser was slow as I was typing

    • TrineBM
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      Ohhh – you posted before I got the chance. I immediately thought of this goal when I read the post on footballers here. The Swedes are not in doubt: Zlatan is the best EVAH!

  4. Paulo Jabardo
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    He didn’t see Pelé playing. Actually, very few Europeans saw Pelé play at all. Just a little info. He is the player that scored the largest number of goals ever. He won 3 world cups with Brazil and two world championships with Santos (I team I despise!!!). On his first world cup, in 1958, he was only *17* and he didn’t start playing. The other players basically ordered the coach to put him in the starting lineup. That is not something that happens often even more in a world cup and with a 17 year old kid.

    Until the early sixties, there were *no* substitutions even if a player got injured. Pelé used to substitute for the goal keeper and he even defended penalty kicks. He was also a hell of a good defensive player.

    Another thing that Pelé was very good, perhaps the best ever, was hitting with the head. Messi couldn’t score a goal with his head if the ball hit him!

    That is not all. His style evolved and adapted throughout his carrier, When young he would often “humiliate” his oponents in every conceivable way. Later on, he became more of the brain of the team. Contrast his appearences in 1958 and 1970 world cups. Different styles but the same genius.

    He was also a very good athlete. Sure, probably players today are better but in his day, he was very much ahead of other players.

    Pelé could also be mean. More than one defensive players got a broken leg because they hit Pelé a little too hard. It was also very difficult to put him down. He would only fall down if there was no possibility of continuing the play. Compare that to Messi who is *extremely* protected by referees and if he feels the gravitational pull of an adversary he will go down. People often say that football is much more violent today than it used to. I don’t buy it. Remember there used to be very little or no TV at all in those days.

    Overall, he scored 1282 goals in 1367 games (about 0.94 goals/game throughout his carrier. In 1961 he scored an average of 1.63 goals/game. And he scored his 1000th goal before he was 30. Messi still has a *very* long way to go to get near Pelé.

    • lanceleuven
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid that I have little to offer in terms of details about Pele but, and please forgive me for being off point here, but what does it mean when you put a word between two asterisks mean?! I’ve been wondering for a while now! Many thanks. 🙂

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Asterisks surrounding a word [or phrase] has two purposes that I know of & Paulo is using it as per 1] below:

        1] To emphasise that word without having to use the HTML needed these days to make the word appear italic or bold


        2] Like an emoticon ~ to describe the writers intent, mood, facial expression or other non-verbal communication like this:-
        *grin*, *shrug* or *sigh*

        I think 1] above came about from markdown syntax ~ surrounding a word with an asterisk [or underscore] like this:-
        *word* results in the word appearing as italic

        In that syntax also if one puts two asterisks [or underscores] front & back like this:-
        **word** results in the word appearing bold

        • lanceleuven
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

          Aha! Now I know. Thank you very much. Greatly appreciated. 🙂

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Quoting from the Wiki on EMOTE :-

    • jose
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Everything you say about Pelé is good, but when you start shitting on Messi, you fail. Messi dives far less than your average forward player (we’re talking Messi, not Figo) and the “protected by the referees” myths has lived long past its expiration date, now repeated only by Real fans. And what’s that about not scoring with his head? He’s a goddamn hobbit, what do you want? And who cares anyway, he won’t stop beating goal records, so not really a problem…

      • PauloJabardo
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Obviously you haven’t played much football since scoring with the head is 90% positioning yourself correctly. On the other hand, the way Barcelona plays, scoring with the head simply is very difficult for any player. It just doesn’t come up!

        I don’t particularly like Real Madrid but at least 5 times per game Messi sudenly stops running and the referee calls a foul. That happens so often that many times there isn’t even a player nearby.

        As for goal records, I doubt he will reach Pelé. He might reach Romário.

    • Joga
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      lol most of those goals game against pub, sides those are not official goals… plus scored those goals in brazil and the US not nearly as competitive… seriously if u count the world cup he only played 1 game and didnt play the whole tournament i have no words for ur stupidity .. plus the players he played with were great thats why they won the world cup even without him playing.. carlos alberto, garrincha , jairzinho its hailed as one of the best teams of all time he was never even the top scorer for any of those teams….he`s a great player but a little too over hyped…

      .n about heading i think u dont remember the header in the final against united…just youtube messi headers ull find a bunch he`s not the tallest but still can head a ball n besides no 1 is even close to messi with his feet… even maradona said iv seen great players , but no 1 with messi`s ball control..maradona is hailed as the best dribbler of the ball ever

      Messi’s not the world’s best player just because he scores a lot of goals, He’s the best goalscorer , the best dribbler, and the best final 3rd passer. He’s also tactically and positionally disciplined, has defensive qualities, has an astonishingly mature understanding of how to manipulate the pace of a game, and the quality of his decision making is extraordinary. If he was more selfish, he’d easily score 100plus goals. If he fancied becoming a midfielder, he could easily replace (and surpass) Xavi. Take away Ronaldo’s goals and you have a 20million footballer. Take away Messi’s goals and you still have an 80million player. and he`s on track to beat mullers goal scoring record.. best player on the planet by a mile


      Ronaldo is a world-class player, I have played with him and, rightly so, he was named World Player of the Year – but I think this year Messi has taken it to a different level,” “He’s unbelievable. In my eyes he’s up there. Him and Maradona are the best two ever.”

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

        You drunk or just 12?

        • TFJ
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          Look past the style. The substance is sound.

  5. lanceleuven
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I clicked on your ‘On October 30’ link, and you were right! The first poster was complaining that you’d referred to it as “soccer”. Well, in an attempt to try and rebalance things a little I’d like to say, call it what you like, we know what you mean. Different courses for different horses as they say…

  6. jose
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Prof Coyne, could you ask Seamus Malin about his opinion on Andrés Iniesta? He’s idolized in Barcelona, often compared to Laudrup.

  7. Occam
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    You were expecting biology while I’m on a trip? Sorry, but you get food, beer and football for another week.

    Nutrition and zymurgy are valid concerns for a biologist.
    Sphairomachy is a narrow but vibrant research field in hominid ethology, particularly in regard to its pathological variants.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      I think you just made that word up. I googled ‘sphairomachy’ and just one result came up…. your post. 😉

      • Occam
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        How splendid a Hofstadterian self-reference would that be!

        But no, I did not presume to invent:
        σφαιρομαχία (sphairomachia), literally “ball-battle”,from σφαῖρα (sphaira) “ball, sphere” + μάχη (mache), “battle”.

        Cf. Liddel & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon:

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 24, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          Well, you have the honour of being the first person to use that word on da intertoobz. The first one Google’s noticed, anyway.

  8. eddie
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    That’s a shockingly poorly produced video. I got two minutes in and had to stop. Is there any actual football in it?

  9. pilgrimpater
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Messi is quite simply the pinnacle of evolution along the football lineage and conclusive proof that god cannot exist else he would have made Messi English.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanksgiving, football, and no mention of Lions or Cowboys. The “faith community” is right; you are a heathen.

  11. aspidoscelis
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Football… the only sport less interesting than football. 🙂

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I was forgetting cricket.

      • Miles_Teg
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        Heresy! I’ve been watching the Australia vs. South Africa Test in Adelaide, and it’s a fine game. I’m not a “cricket tragic” but I do enjoy watching it, especially this particular series. Not as good as Australian Football but heaps better than Soccer.

        • Bonzodog
          Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          Pretty good match happening in India at the mo … in the balance ..

          • Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            Exactly: just make all pitches like the one in Mumbai (perhaps with even more turn), and reduce the duration of Test matches to 3 days, and then we will see how anyone dares to call cricket boring.

  12. Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    I was under the impression–perhaps I’m wrong–that the pedants who correct you about the use of the word “football” versus “soccer” are actually incorrect. “Soccer” is the colloquial but correct word for the game you are talking about in this post. If you want to stick to pedantry, then you must talk about “association football” which distinguishes it from “rugby football.” Thus “soccer” correctly references the game played with a round ball and feet, but “football” could mean a game played with an oblong ball and hands, or a round ball with feet. But to be sure, the Brits invented “football” and “soccer” and “rugby” and therefore have the right to call us non-soccer/football/rugby inventers out on the definition of the sport we are trying to talk about.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never seen a round ball with feet, but it conjures up an interesting mental image.

      Okay I’ll get my coat….

      • TrineBM
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

        I laughed … Do I have to get my coat too???

  13. Miles_Teg
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Soccer is quite properly called soccer, there was even a British sports show in the Seventies called “Star Soccer”. It may be football to the Poms and Europeans but to Aussies Football is Australian Rules Football, to Americans I suppose Gridiron is football, although I don’t remember seeing the foot used in that game except for running. (I don’t watch much Gridiron because I’m easily bored.)

    Let each country/region use the term football as the will but not try to impose their ideas on the rest of us.

    And as to Maradona, that execrable excuse for a human being is an acknowledged cheat.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I think it’s relevant that football (aka soccer) is the majority game in Britain, most of Europe, and most of South America. Ellipsoidal-ball variants are a significant sport in just a few countries like New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa – and even then they don’t agree on which version to play.
    American football I can’t even comment on.

    So if there is a game to be known as ‘football’ it’s got to be soccer.

  15. Sean
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Whilst you are in Edinburgh Jerry, If you are free on Saturday why not come along and see some real football at the Hibs v Aberdeen match at Easter Road? Its a 3 o’clock K.O. and I’ll be happy to take you (I have a season ticket there).

    Can’t promise Lionel Messi or Barca tippy-tappy style football but We’ve got #Leigh, Leigh, Super Leigh Griffiths# banging in the goals as top scorer in Scotland right now and Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn has scored in 7 of his last 8 matches. It should be a good game with a fairly large crowd as both clubs are having an excellent season so far. (2nd and 3rd in the league)

    By the way, the game is known as fitba’ in Scotland.

    • TFJ
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Messi, meh! Twinkletoed pansy! Who needs the tippy-tappy rubbish. Duncan ‘Dunce’ Ferguson. Now there’s a player. Didn’t just score headers, he’d have the defenders and ref in the back of the net too, and nut the linesman on the way back to halfaway. Messi wouldn’t stand a chance against quality like that.

  16. Nick Evans
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Seems reasonable enough to call the round-ball game soccer while you’re in the US, and football while in more civilised parts.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted November 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      Sure, but Jerry is in England.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 24, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        ‘Civilised parts’ not including England then, I take it? 😉

  17. ralither
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I’m sure you know that the nitpickers are wrong. According to Wikipedia “The term soccer originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s”. It is necessary (unless you use the unabbreviated form “association football”) when there might be confusion with the other type of football (rugby), but allowable at all times. I hate people who give pedantry a bad name.

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