The title is in CAPS and there is an exclamation mark, so that means it must be true. After all, this is the tried and tested method used by The Sun and The Daily Mail news outlets. It also helps if one prefaces the subject matter with EXCLUSIVE! as well, and then the story is complete.
So, the reason for the subject title is the small matter of Lionel Messi finally overhauling Gerd Muller’s forty year old record for most goals scored in a calendar year. (Since Messi surpassed Muller’s 85 goals scored, the Zambian FA and the Brazilian club Flamengo have both separately challenged the record claiming that Godfrey Chitalu and Zico scored more than Muller.)
Not to take anything away from the phenomenal goal scoring prowess of Messrs Muller, Messi, Chitalu and Zico, it remains a mystery to me why this focus on calendar year feats is now so popular. Recently, Robin can Persie was praised as having scored the most Premier League goals in a calendar year whilst he was still at Arsenal. Again, a great feat but pretty meaningless if one considers the Golden Boot for all leagues are based on seasonal or tournament lengths.
As usual when a major record is overhauled, a lot of people who want to try and place the little Argentinian in a ranking of the greatest footballers of all time. Football is not alone in this categorisation system – every hot new rookie who displays an above average level of talent is constantly compared to Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird etc.
Just ask Lebron James – long touted to the heir apparent to Michael Jordan foe his all round athleticism and ability to rack up ridiculously high points per game on a regular basis. Prior to winning his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat, Lebron was frequently dismissed as a pretender to the crown because he had not won a championship ring. He answered some critics with the first one, but yet others remain sceptical until he has won multiple championship titles. In other words – he is damned if he does and he is damned if he doesn’t.
Similarly the greatest weakness that is frequently wheeled out against Messi (especially by Pele) is that he has not recreated his sparkling club form for his native country, Argentina. For all his scoring prowess, multiple titles for Barcelona and generally superhuman dribbling and amazing goals, it will simply not be enough for certain critics. The other frequent “weakness” levelled against Messi is that he has the supreme talents of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta alongside him at Barcelona, so how could he not fail? After all, his fellow countryman Diego Maradona not only won the World Cup for Argentina (almost singlehanded), he also won the Scudetto for club team Napoli. Both titles arguably came without the superior resources that Messi has at his disposal at club and country level.
The problem with voting systems like the Ballon d’Or is that it is difficult to establish a basis for evaluating the winner. For example, it is always difficult for a goalkeeper or a defender to make their mark in such a system. Their endeavours typically go unnoticed and get overshadowed by the flashy exploits of a mazy dribble and an overhead kick which results in that constantly replayed highlight reel moment.
Although it probably will never happen as it goes against human nature, I would argue that players should be appreciated for the talent and skill they have without getting bogged down in an argument about whether Pele is greater than Maradona, whether Messi is greater than Cristiano Ronaldo, whether Xavi is better than Pirlo.
In the words of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg “Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.” Let us rather try and enjoy the moments of genius created by those at the very top of their powers.