The Argentinian wizard Lionel Messi is rightly regarded as not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but also one of the greatest of all time. With this in mind, and with his 30th birthday on 24th June, we decided to take a detailed look at the statistics and records which evidence and reinforce Messi’s brilliance. We also decided to look at just how high his goal tally may reach should he continue to perform at his current breathtaking level.
Overall career record
We began by looking at Messi’s career goalscoring record, both at domestic and international level as well as examining his goals per game ratio in these fixtures. We only included first team goals scored in official fixtures and in this regard, Messi’s tally does include his brief spells in the Barcelona C and B teams, given both of these sides do take part in official fixtures within the Spanish league structure.
Messi’s brilliance is immediately apparent from his truly astonishing goalscoring statistics. His 518 career club goals include 507 for Barcelona’s first team with 349 of these goals coming in La Liga, making him the highest scorer in the history of the competition. Indeed, he has scored 64 more goals more than his next highest competitor and great rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi’s domestic goals per game ratio is equally extraordinary with 0.87 goals per game in league football and 0.84 overall in club football. Given a ‘one in two’ ratio has always been seen as a highly respectable record for a forward, these figures emphasise just how deadly Messi has been in his career to date.
Messi’s 58 international goals also leave him with highest tally of any Argentinian international in history, currently four ahead of Gabriel Batistuta. Interestingly, given the inevitable comparisons over the years, it also places him 24 goals ahead of the legendary Diego Maradona, with Messi’s goals coming at a rate of 0.49 goals per game, as opposed to Maradona’s 0.37 goals per game at international level.
Season-by-season club record
We then examined Messi’s season-by-season record to see how his career has developed and evolved since he burst onto the scene.
The graph of Messi’s performances shows a clear and stark upward curve from his early days as a teenager for Barcelona C & B teams, to his emergence as a genuine world class player in the first team under first Frank Rijkaard, and later Pep Guardiola.
His peak season arrived in 2011-2012, where he scored a scarcely believable 73 goals in 60 games. Although Messi has not quite scaled these heights since, his average goal tally since this annus mirabilis has still been an outstanding 50.8 goals per season, with his 54 goals last season evidencing that Messi is certainly showing no real signs of slowing down just yet.
Messi’s goalscoring feats have inevitably assisted Barcelona becoming perhaps the most dominant side in Europe over the last 10 years. In this sense, we then looked at the amount of trophies Messi has won during his glittering career.
Unsurprisingly, Messi has racked up an impressive collection of silverware during his time at Barcelona, winning 17 “major” trophies (La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League), a number which is swelled to 30 when all competitions are included. With a number of years at the top still apparently within his reach, there appears little doubt that Messi’s trophy collection will continue to grow yet further in the forthcoming years.
As well as an outstanding goalscoring record and enviable team success, Messi has also broken any number of records during his outstanding career. In this sense, we decided to collate some of the more impressive and high profile records that Messi currently holds.
Messi has also enjoyed considerable individual success, securing a record five Ballon d’Or triumphs, including four in a row from 2009 to 2012.
His collection of records speaks for itself, from being the top scorer in Barcelona, Argentina, and La Liga history to scoring the most goals in the revered El Clásico, he really is a machine when it comes to record breaking feats. His incredible 2011-2012 season again comes to the fore, with this being the season he broke the world record for the number of goals in all competitions in a season, and the number of goals in a league season. 2012 was also the year he broke Gerd Müller's record for the most goals in a calendar year which had stood since 1972.
Finally, having considered Messi’s current statistics, we decided to examine how his record may look if he continues to scale the heights he has regularly achieved in his career so far. Indeed, with his already frankly ridiculous goal tally and with a number of years presumably left at the top level, his final tallies could end all argument as to his place in the echelons of the all-time greats.
In order to examine how many goals Messi may end up with, we looked at the number of club games he has played on average each year during the last 10 years and used this figure to speculate how many he will play over the forthcoming years. We also established his goals per game ratio in this period to calculate how many goals he can reasonably be expected to score each season.
Messi has a very impressive and enviable injury record over the past 10 years. In addition, he is rarely rested, meaning that on average he has played just over 51 club games per season over the past 10 years. For the purposes of this prediction, we therefore presupposed that he would also feature in 51 games in the seasons ahead, although of course in reality this will depend on Barcelona’s success and whether Messi begins to suffer more injuries as his body ages. During this period, he has averaged just over 48 goals per season at a touch over 0.94 goals per game and again, it is these figures that we have used in our predictive model.
Given Messi is shortly to hit 30, we have reasonably expected that he would be playing at the top level for a maximum of another five years, taking him to his 35th birthday. Given his array of talents, it is not at all inconceivable that he could remain a top performer after this level, as others such as Zlatan Ibrahimović have proved. However, it is perhaps difficult to imagine that he would be able to maintain his appearance or his scoring record at its current levels beyond this age.
As our graph shows, if Messi does keep performing to the levels he has achieved over the past 10 years, he will reach an almost unfathomable 758 club career goals. To put this in some form of context – and based on goals in official fixtures only – he will have outscored Pele, Gerd Muller, Eusebio and Johan Cruyff, as well as scoring more than the Brazilian Ronaldo and Diego Maradona combined. Indeed, although the data for some of the historical players is somewhat unreliable, it is likely he will be the highest club goalscorer of all time if only official fixtures are counted. Of course, it is unknown how many goals his nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo will score, especially given his oft stated plans to play until he is 40, but given Messi is over two years younger, the advantage should be his in that particular shoot out.
It is clear - if indeed there was ever any doubt - that Lionel Messi's statistics and achievements prove conclusively his greatness. What is more, as someone just turning 30, he has the possibility to improve yet further on both his goalscoring and trophy winning records.
What makes Lionel Messi's goalscoring record all the more remarkable is that you would be hard pushed to describe him as an out-and-out goalscorer in the mould of a Gerd Müller. He has somehow managed to fuse the ability to be a creator, dribbler, and dictator of games, with the unerring ability to score copious amounts of goals. In this sense, Messi combines the gracefulness of a Zidane with the goalscoring instincts of a Gary Lineker type striker.
Whilst the debate may rumble as to his place as the greatest in history - or indeed his generation with Cristiano Ronaldo lurking - one thing is for sure, we should all just sit back and enjoy watching him whilst we can.