Well, Lionel Messi broke the record for most football (i.e, soccer) goals in a calendar year—a record of 85 goals held for four decades by Gerd Muller. Today Messi scored two goals, his 85th and 86th, in a Barcelona’s victory of 2-0 over Real Betis. And the season isn’t finished yet!
Watch this video of the record goal quickly, because La Liga will ensure that it’s removed within hours. It’s a lovely goal, too:
(I’ll try to post replacements when they go inactive.)
Rather than beginning yet another debate about Lionel Messi’s place in the footballing pantheon, let’s review what it takes to break a record like this.
Setting aside his innate and abundant skill, the Argentine is blessed with a supporting cast — arguably, the greatest club team of all time, or at least firmly in the top three — that only elevates him higher. The likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta constantly tee him up around the box, or Alexis Sanchez and David Villa create room for him to exploit. With such legends to lean on, Messi profits greatly from opponents constantly forced to pick their poison on defense; covering one menace simply helps another, though the frequency with which Little Flea plays executioner is astounding by any measure.
The greater soccer culture in which he works is also tailor-made for a man like Messi, a breezy, dynamic and indefatigable runner equally sublime with the ball at either foot. La Liga’s gentler, more technical disposition welcomes and helps foment his skills in a way that the hacky, schizophrenic Premier League or controlled aggression of Serie A never could.
He’s also been supremely fortunate with regard to overall health. While Arsenal’s starting XI suffers ankle sprains and MCL tears while trapped in REM sleep, Messi’s longevity enables him to rack up more minutes and, thus, more chances to locate pay dirt. Since the start of the 2006-07 season he’s missed just 28 games due to injuries, playing in an astounding 382 over that span. Simply looking at that log might snap Djibril Cisse’s leg for a third time.
Even the list of injuries — broken bone in left foot, thigh muscle strain, torn thigh muscle, sprained right ankle ligaments, bruised right knee — is a log that any professional soccer player would covet given the brutal unpredictability of the game. A stud caught in damp grass can ruin a career. Messi, meanwhile, seemingly walks on water.
All that said, Messi is also a man capable of transcending the very traps designed to knock him over. Rarely does he crumple under a tackle (except for Wednesday’s knee knock that left the soccer world breathless and concerned); seldom does he cower or submit to the grinding dirge that can sometimes be modern soccer. Teams can park buses or subject him to reducers for 90 minutes, but rarely does it totally neuter his influence.
Rather, he’s always smiling, always creating. Never does the yoke of being so loved or intensely pressured to lead Barcelona wear him to a sulky nub. Where Ronaldo is abused endlessly (and unfairly) for not taking the occasional hardship or unfair decision in stride, Messi simply continues about his job, a shape-shifting genius with a permanent smile. Instead, the language of goals is his currency. Tap-ins, toe pokes, artful chips and rocketed drives. Volleys, the occasional header, a cheeky flick.