It's official: Lionel Messi is now the greatest goalscorer the game has even seen - and probably the finest footballer in history, too. We have never seen his like before - and we may never witness such a tremendous talent again.
Luckily, Leo is only 25 and is set to be around for some time to come yet. Last Thursday, the astonishing Argentine was nominated for his fourth successive Ballon d'Or. Nobody in history has achieved that, but Messi is used to surpassing such marks, milestones and merits.
|MESSI'S TREMENDOUS 2012 TIMELINE
|SCORES FIRST GOALS OF THE YEAR
||Messi came on after 59 minutes in the Copa del Rey against Osasuna and scored two goals late in the game|
|HITS DOUBLE FIGURES IN STYLE
|FEB 19th||Leo hit his 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th in an incredible four-goal display at home to Valencia in La Liga|
|25 AND COUNTING
|MAR 17th||The 25-year-old passed a quarter of a century with a double against Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan|
|REACHES 50 GOALS IN 2012
||Messi reaches and surpasses 50 goals with a brilliant hat trick in Argentina's 4-3 win over rival Brazil|
|NOV 11th||The Argentine scored twice in the 4-2 win at Mallorca to overtake Pele's mark of 75 goals in a single year (1958)|
|SMASHES MULLER'S MARK
|DEC 5th||Messi's two strikes against Benfica mean he is now the all-time top scorer in a calendar year with 86 goals|
A week ago, at home to Athletic Bilbao, Messi netted twice in a 5-1 win to close to within one of Gerd Muller's mark of 85 goals in a calendar year but on Wednesday, against Benfica in the Champions League, the Argentine was left frustrated as he emerged from the bench only to end up goalless and hurt at Camp Nou as he departed the pitch on a stretcher five minutes from time.
But it's impossible to keep Messi down for long and after a rapid recovery from a badly bruised knee, he was back at Betis on Sunday to smash Muller's mark, which had stood the test of time since 1972.
Nobody had come close to the German, before or since. But Messi has now broken Muller's mark with up to four games still left to play in 2012. Soon, the only records left for him to break will be his own.
Messi's goalscoring, like Barca's play, was revolutionized by the arrival of Pep Guardiola as coach in 2011-12. The Argentine improved his diet and his fitness to stay clear of injuries and was instructed to conserve his energy to maximize his efficiency in front of goal. He also played a lot closer to the area - although still on the right.
It was in 2009-10 that Messi moved into the center after a series of static showings from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barca's system stayed the same, but with the Argentine as the false nine instead of a recognized central striker.
It was in that season that the Rosario-born forward hit four goals in a Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Arsenal to convince Guardiola once and for all that his place in the team was in the center of Barca's three-man forward line.
That spelled the end for Ibrahimovic at Camp Nou and after the game, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger described Messi as a "Playstation". He has been banging in the goals like a computer console ever since.
And although he missed out on La Liga and the Champions League last term, the Argentine struck an incredible 73 goals in 2011-12.
That tally saw him overtake Muller's mark of 69 goals which had stood since 1973 and Messi has now beaten the German's total in a calendar year. There really is no stopping this young man and, at 25, his best may still be ahead of him.
Gerard Pique recently described his teammate as an "extra-terrestrial", while former Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti claimed Messi was a "Martian" and even Mourinho admitted that he was "from another planet".
All of that, of course, has been said before. And perhaps that's why Guardiola was always reluctant to resort to cliche or hyperbole when asked about his prized player. "You can't describe him," Pep told a disappointed female journalist who had traveled from overseas to cover a Barca game last year in the Champions League. "You have to see him. I can't tell you about Messi, you have to watch him yourself."
Indeed, that's all we can do - watch and admire - because we may never see his like again.
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