Feb 282014

The first legs of all the last 16 matches in the Champions League have now been played and we are starting to get a clearer idea of which teams might well be heading for glory in Lisbon in May. It proved to be a surprisingly fruitful round of games for the away teams with six of the eight first leg matches won by the travelling team, in convincing fashion.  Those six teams are now firmly in the driving seat to qualify for the quarter-finals while there was just the one home victory and the one draw in the latest round of matches.

There is no doubt that performance of the round came from Real Madrid as they demolished Schalke in Germany to all but secure their place in the last eight with a 6-1 victory. Real put on a startling display of attacking football with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all scoring twice as they routinely brushed aside a decent Schalke side at home. It was a breath-taking display from Carlo Ancelotti’s men and with their progress now safe even before the return leg, they have been cut from 5/1 into 4/1 for the Champions League betting outright.

It has been a difficult round of Champions League fixtures for the English teams with only Chelsea avoiding defeat in the first leg as they drew 1-1 away against Galatasary. Arsenal were beaten 2-0 at home by defending Champions, Bayern Munich, after they had their keeper sent off and asking the Gunners to overturn a two deficit in Germany is surely going to be a bridge too far. The same can be said for Man City who also lost 2-0 at home in their match with Barcelona which has left them with a mountain to climb if they are to make the last eight for the first time.

City and Arsenal can perhaps be forgiven for their defeats against top opposition but it was Man United who suffered the most when it came to the Champions League over the past couple of weeks. The United players produced a limp performance as they lost 2-0 in Greece to Olympiakos and are now faced with a tough ask to qualify, despite initially appearing to have a very favourable draw on paper. It was the latest in a string of poor performances from United who are in danger of slipping out of the Champions League for the first time given their current league position. United will now have to come back from a 2-0 deficit in Europe for the first time in 30 years and while it is not out of the question, there is no doubt they will need to play a whole lot better at Old Trafford.

Real Madrid, Bayern and Barcelona may have stolen most of the headlines during the first legs of the last 16 but one team that continues to make stealthy progress is Atletico Madrid. The Spanish side came away from the San Siro with a 1-0 win against AC Milan and they are now hot favourites to progress given that away goal. Diego Simeone has been working wonders in the Spanish capital this season and Atletico are likely to attract plenty of backers over the next few days, with a price of 12/1 likely to appeal to each-way punters in the current Champions League winners market.

The other two teams to have taken the upper hand in the first legs of their last 16 matches are PSG and Dortmund who both managed to score four goals away from home. PSG were perhaps the most impressive as they beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 in Germany with Zlatan Ibrahimovich once again causing havoc for the Ligue 1 side. PSG have been a popular alternative to the market leaders in the Champions League outright betting all season and are now as short as 10/1 to win the trophy which looks a fair price. Dortmund have not been quite the same force this season as they were last, but nevertheless they are set for the quarter-finals after beating Zenit 4-2 in Russia in their first leg match.

Much of the interest in the second legs of the last 16 will focus on Man United looking to overhaul Olympiakos, while Chelsea are expected to overcome Galatasary at Stamford Bridge in the other finely poised tie. There is no doubt whatsoever though that it is Real Madrid who have taken the eye in this latest round of matches with many now starting to believe that Los Blancos can finally claim their 10th European Cup victory. They have a coach in Carlo Ancelotti that has tasted success in the competition as both a player and a coach, while their front three of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema is bang in-form as we head into the business end of the campaign.

Sep 072013

Éric Abidal, who has battled with a tumour in his liver, has hit out at his former club Barcelona. Abidal left the Catalan club for Monaco this summer, but it is not happy with the way he was treated when he was ill.

“It’s hard to understand what Barça said in the last press conference,” he told L’Équipe. “It wasn’t about money, proof of which is the fact that the club didn’t pay me during the months I was ill.”

Abidal thinks things would have been different if Guardiola had still been in charge at Barcelona: “If Guardiola was still at Barcelona, I might have stayed. He is someone who really appreciates me and I keep in touch with him. He is a great coach. Today I’m lucky enough to have the trust of the Monaco manager and president. Touch wood, everything is fine. But it’s true, there was a time when I doubted myself.”

Barcelona have since released a statement to the clarify the following:

– Both parties confirm that the Club duly complied with the contractual commitments stipulated in the player’s contract.

– That in January of 2012, even though the player relapsed and underwent liver transplant surgery two months later, FC Barcelona offered Abidal a contract extension which included a substantial renewal bonus. The extension was signed.

– That in March of 2012, when Abidal’s disease reappeared, the Club did not execute its option to unilaterally rescind the player’s contract per the stipulation in the contract that Abidal signed. By mutual agreement, FC Barcelona and the player suspended the contract until Abidal was medically cleared to play. During this period Abidal continued collecting his agreed upon monthly payments and, upon his return to the first team, he received the proportional sum of his contract.

– In June of 2013, when his contract was due to expire, the Club and Abidal liquidated the contract.”

Aug 132013

The Spanish press are reporting that Barcelona are determined to sign Chelsea defender David Luiz, and have claimed that it’s either him or nobody.

Reports suggest that Luiz is keen to make the move, particularly since countryman Neymar made the move to the Nou Camp earlier this summer. At Barcelona he would be used more regularly in the centre of defence, whilst he would be competing with Jose Mourinho favourite, John Terry, as well as Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic. With the World Cup being hosted in Rio at the end of this season, Luiz believes he stands a better chance of partnering Thiago Silva in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil team if he’s at Barca.

Chelsea are apparently asking €40m for the player but the Catalan club’s improved offer is a bit short of that, €35m. Now the defender’s agent is expected to rock the boat in an attempt to push through the deal.

Jul 202013

Before being beaten by Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League semi-final, then Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, revealed his admiration for the opposition.

“I’m a massive Man United fan,” he said. “I have no problem saying United are one of the best clubs in the world – even though I want to beat them. They are the best side in the world at the moment – a top, top side and we respect them a lot. United are probably our biggest rivals but they are a team who play good football.”

Now at Barcelona, Fabregas has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, despite the official denials of the club.

Jul 112013

Some reports from Spain this morning have claimed that Barcelona’s young star, Thiago Alcantara, will be announced as a Bayern Munich player later today.

Whilst it would make some sense for Thiago to link up Barcelona legend, Pep Guardiola, who the player believes would be most capable of helping him develop as a midfielder technically, there are several arguments against the deal too.

Firstly, Guardiola has repeatedly denied any interest in the player. Secondly, Thiago would be competing for a place in the starting XI with Mario Götze, Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez. The whole reason why Thiago is keen to leave Barcelona is for first team football and Manchester United would be in the best position to offer him this.

“People have to know that Barca players are not leaving for money or desire. There are two possibilities: they dump you or you feel like you should be playing and Barcelona do not,” remarked Guardiola a few days ago.

Jul 092013

It’s no secret that the lads in the top flight of football are earning an absolute fortune, but once they have finished buying women, houses with swimming pools, pedicures for their wives’ Chihuahuas and more women, believe it or not, but they often still have enough left over for some pretty fancy cars. British used car company Autoweb thought it would be fun to look at ten of the most interesting cars owned by footballers. It turns out that Ashley Cole can’t handle more than one woman at the time, hence the two-seater, Messi is saving up for something special, Rooney is as subtle as a brick, Henry isn’t quite mixing with the highflyers and Cristiano Ronaldo is just as flashy off the pitch as he is on it.

Jul 062013

Reports from Spain this morning claim that David Villa’s transfer from Barcelona isn’t turning out to be as simple as originally expected. Despite the club being open to offers for some time, progress with his transfer has stalled when time has come for definitive action.

As yet Barcelona doesn’t have a formal offer for the player. Many clubs have shown an interest in the striker and may have even discussed figures, but agreement still hasn’t been reached.

Tottenham and Fiorentina are the two clubs that have shown the most interest in the player, and there has also been contact with Arsenal, Liverpool and Atlético de Madrid, but as yet, nobody has made any firm moves to sign him.

Barcelona were hoping to get €15 million, but with having just one year left on his contract, all those interested have even failed to offer the minimum €10 million that would be needed to pay off the resulting share of his €40 million purchase from Valencia three years ago.

Another factor making his transfer more complicated is his contract. Villa has earned €7 million a year for his time at the club so far. However, for this last year of his contract his salary will increase to €11 million. This is a sum that will be difficult for possible buyers to meet.

Towards the end of last season, Andre Villas-Boas confirmed that Villa was a player the club were interested in signing.

“He is one of the world’s best strikers,” he said. “What comes out of speculation at this time at Tottenham is very surreal because you know the club is very active in the last weeks of the transfer window, so you can see that speculation is growing – but at the moment we are focused on trying to get fourth spot.”

In the January transfer window, Arsene Wenger confirmed that they had been trying to sign the striker but Barcelona insisted he wasn’t for sale… yet.

Jul 052013

Manchester United have been heavily linked to signing Thiago from Barcelona after the Spanish club didn’t play him in the required number of games to enforce the €90m release clause.

When approached by Sky Sports today, a Barcelona source would only say: “We still have not received any formal offer for the player.”

However, that hasn’t stopped Barcelona from cropping the young star out of a picture of the players in the new kit on their official Instagram account.

The club claim the reason for Thiago’s disappearance is more to do with the shape of pictures allowed on Instagram, with a square frame requiring that either Puyol or Thiago was cut off.

Jun 142013

Pre-season is notable for two things; new football kit launches and wild transfer rumours. While the new Manchester United football kit arrived earlier this month there seems to be more rumours every day as new boss David Moyes settles in to his role. But who will become his first big signing?

It will be a bizarre experience for Manchester United fans to see the dugout without Sir Alex Ferguson and there is a huge amount of uncertainty as David Moyes takes his place with the spectre of the most prominent football manager of his era leaning over him.

Moyes will be keen to make his own mark on the club and quickly turn Sir Alex’s empire into his own own and he find it difficult to resist the riches on offer after the frugality employed at Goodison Park during his 11-year tenure. But does this mean he will splash tens of millions on ex-Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas?

On paper it seems like a match made in heaven. Moyes is traditionally sluggish in the transfer market and takes some convincing a player is worth spending a transfer budget on. At Everton the talents of Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta were both required to prove their worth with an initial loan move before Moyes took the plunge and paid around £3m each.

The same tactic allowed him to avoid wasting wage budget on the supremely talented but troublesome Royston Drenthe and the physical but limited Denis Stracqualursi in recent years. Moyes has showed his caution in the past and will do so again at United.

Moyes’ caution means Fabregas is the perfect choice as a midfield target. While the likes of Wesley Sneijder will come at a lower price Fabregas has proven he can stand up to the rigours of the Premiership. Ever since arrive as an astonishingly composed 17-year-old at Arsenal Fabregas has proved he can pass, cover the midfield ground and show exceptional leadership ability. It is exactly the sort of player Moyes loves and the perfect addition to a United midfield lacking that extra spark of quality.

Not only will Fabregas improve the squad it will send a message out to Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal that it can attract the best players regardless of club loyalty – a sure sign Fergie may be gone but United’s power lives on.

However, convincing Fabregas to join will be problematic. Contrary to popular opinion he has been an integral figure for the club he loves this season with 32 league appearances, eight Champions League games and 14 goals in all competitions. It is hardly the record of the bit-part player. He has professed his desire to remain at the club and United will face a struggle to convince him otherwise.

If Fabregas cannot be convinced perhaps Moyes will look to his understudy at Barcelona, Spaniard Thiago Alcantara. The Scot is not averse to buying younger players to develop – Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley were brought through last season to great effect at Everton.

Thiago would be a superb signing for United. He is a creative force with sharp passing and attack-minded philosophy in the mould of a young Paul Scholes. He is regarded as a special player at Barcelona and his £18m release clause reflects this. One for the future, he would benefit from the experience of Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick in the midfield and would help Moyes mould a team for the next ten years.

Apr 232013

It comes as no surprise that the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Manchester United come close to the top of the passing accuracy table, however it is surprising to see that the likes of Wigan, Fulham, Roma, Torino and Lille are better passers than Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Stats from WhoScored.com

Feb 272013

Bookmakers are number crunchers 99.99 per cent of the time, setting their football betting odds based on statistics and other forms of important data such as injury and suspension news. But, when it comes to Barcelona, it seems that logic goes out of the window and irrationality takes over.

Apologies to Celtic versus Rangers, Boca Juniors versus River Plate and Everton versus Liverpool and other famous derbies but there is no bigger club game than El Clasico, the name for any match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Every El Clasico brings the football world to a standstill and the giants will go head to head at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday 2 March 2013 for the 166th time in the Spanish La Liga tournament, with Real Madrid’s El Clasico league home record standing at 50 wins, 15 draws and 17 losses.

Furthermore, Real Madrid is unbeaten in its last 35 home games across all competitions, winning 28 of those matches and heading into Saturday’s El Clasico off an impressive 3-1 Copa del Rey away defeat of Barcelona earlier this week.

Everyone knows that Barcelona is 12 points clear at the top of the Spanish La Liga ladder and well on its way to taking out its 22nd domestic championship. Most people accept that, on their day, Barca are the world’s best club side. But it beggars belief that Tito Vilanova’s team is the favourite for this weekend’s El Clasico in Madrid’s big backyard.

Incredibly, bookmakers are quoting Barcelona at odds of around 11-8 (read up on fractional odds if you’re not used to this odds format), with Real Madrid trading at odds of greater than 2-1 and the draw available at odds of around 13-5.

To say that the odds do not make sense would be a gross understatement. Real Madrid has not lost any of its last four games versus Barcelona and the manner of its 3-1 Camp Nou victory on Tuesday was such that it will go into the Spanish La Liga encounter with more confidence than Jack Nicholson takes into an Academy Awards after party.

Barcelona is going through its roughest spell of the season, losing two of its last three matches and, with the Spanish La Liga title race all over bar the shouting, it is focused on salvaging its UEFA Champions League campaign. Barca trails Milan 0-2 after playing poorly at the San Siro.

What should the betting on Saturday’s El Clasico result look like? Well, the home side is entitled to be the favourite so something like 11-8 Real Madrid, 7-4 Barcelona and 5-2 draw, with the draw out of the gate because there should be goals and the only draw about which any punter can take a strong view is a goalless one. Anyone who backs the draw may as well dutch 1-1 and 2-2 at odds of around 7-1 and 11-1 respectively. The dutched bet works out at nearly 4-1.

If punters pick their spots to oppose Barcelona, there are value bets to be struck and profits to be made. El Clasico is just one example of how bookmakers are overrating Barca currently. Another one is the UEFA Champions League tie between Barcelona and Milan that is at its halfway stage.

Barcelona is 0-2 down going into the Camp Nou second leg yet bookmakers think, give or take a few percentage points, that the outcome of the tie is a coin flip. That is ludicrous.

First, there are the historical arguments against Barcelona and for Milan. The history books show that only 18.6 per cent of teams that lose the first leg of a European tie 2-0 away from home end up winning the clash. Also, Italian Serie A teams are 46-9 in terms of progress and elimination after winning the first leg of a European tie 2-0 at home. The last Italian side to falter from this very strong position was Milan in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals 17 years ago. A bloke by the name of Zinedine Zidane inspired Bordeaux to win the second leg 3-0 in France to knock out the Rossoneri.

And second, there are this term’s goal-scoring statistics for Milan and goal-conceding statistics for Barcelona. The Rossoneri have scored in 15 of their 17 competitive road games this season, including in 10 of its last 11 away matches. Overall, Milan has scored in 28 of its 35 games, including in each of its last seven matches and in 13 of its last 14 games. Massimiliano Allegri’s side scores regularly. Barcelona concedes goals just as regularly as Milan scores them. Barca have kept only five clean sheets in their 20 competitive home matches this term and they have let in a goal in 31 of their 42 games played anywhere. Those are numbers that will surprise the average football punter.

There is a very strong chance that Barcelona will have to score at least four goals in normal time of the Camp Nou second leg to eliminate Milan. Back the Rossoneri at odds of around 8-11 to knock out Barca because the market is wrong.

Feb 042013

Real Madrid faced Barcelona in the 1st leg of the Copa Del Rey Semi Finals at the Bernabeu last week.

The game was an interesting battle throughout with both sides wary of allowing the other get on top of the tie. After a goalless first half which saw a few missed chances from both sides, Barcelona took the lead 5 minutes into the second half. Lionel Messi was first to a poor clearance and poked the ball through to Cesc Fabregas to advance 1 on 1 with the keeper and coolly finish. Madrid pressed as they looked for a deserved equalizer which eventually came with less than 10 minutes to go. Raphael Varane headed home from a Mesut Ozil cross to leave the tie nicely poised as they head to the Nou Camp.

Whilst the 2 main men, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo were quiet, there was plenty of moments of class from the array of genius on disaply. Here are 5 GIF moments from the game

1. Andres Iniesta scoop pass

Brilliant pass from Iniesta as he scoops the ball over the Madrid to defence to get Jordi Alba in behind.

2. Sergio Busquets skill

Under pressure near his own box, Busquets shows off some great skill to play the ball over one player and calmly lay the ball off to a team mate with his next touch.

3. Xavi Pass, Raphael Varane tackle

With Cesc Fabregas through on goal from a brilliant Xavi pass, the young French defender shows great pace to get back and execute a perfect last ditch tackle

4. Mesut Ozil control

Truly stunning. Ozil controls a long pass with his heel. Beautiful.

5. Xavi pass, Jordi Alba touch and shot

Wonmderful vision and pass from Xavi plays in Alba who’s first touch is brilliant and sets him up for a shot at goal which is smartly saved by Diego Lopez.

Jan 072013

In terms of football, the year of 2012 finished moments ago and it was incredible for one reason and one reason only: Lionel Andrés Messi.

Pundits and people alike all talk of the greatest of all time or asking whether he is better than Cristiano Ronaldo, that’s where people’s perceptions are in the wrong place. You need to ask yourself, can he get better than the level he is at right now? He hasn’t won a world cup single-handedly like Maradona or had the luck to play alongside some of the world’s greatest players for Brasil like Pele but here is someone that just scored 91 goals in one year. It wasn’t in an unknown league on the sub-continent, this has occurred for the best team in the world as the world’s current best player. Surrounded by some of the current greatest players of this generation he has excelled in a role he has carved out for himself: the lynch-pin  the focal point, the false nine, the free role, the ‘Messi role’. This is not a place to waste time making comparisons but to reflect on what we have available to us right now. Could you imagine what it would be like being born 20 years from now and not growing up having seen Messi play? This is a huge reason just to admire and be happy with what we have and not to make him something he isn’t or get caught up in time wasting conjecture.

The Beginning

Lionel Andrés Messi was born 24th June 1987 in Rosario, Argentina. He was the younger of two brothers and had most of his upbringing delivered by his Auntie Marcela and Grandmother Celia. His parents were busy working day jobs making ends meet so it was up to his wider family to introduce him to football and become the catalyst in making him the player he is today.

His first football coach at Grandoli Sports Centre No 8 was urged to play Messi by his Grandmother. After some persuasion, Messi’s Mother allowed him to play, but in the age group above. It was this acceptance from his Mother that let his coach, Oscar Lopez and other children from the neighbourhood see what a special talent he was. His first action with the ball wasn’t your usual one. Sat in the middle of the pitch playing with stones until the ball bounced towards him. He jumped up, controlled the ball and dribbled it away in the same vein you see now for Barcelona. He may not have scored that day but from then on he turned into a goal machine playing with the older boys.

“He seemed to create pictures of what he wanted to do in his head and then make them reality on the pitch. He was just born with this talent. You can’t teach it.” Jorge Lopez

That’s the thing, you can’t teach it. All the great players were great before we all knew it. Training can help you hone your accuracy or strength but natural ability is exactly that.

A shy, caring, unnaturally small boy but with courage and determination that left an impression on anyone that met him. Messi is the same now as he was 20 years ago back in Rosario. It is this humble-ness that leaves you in even more admiration of him as any other player would have let it get to their heads and tarnish their reputation as a person first; footballer second. Messi’s stock was rising and it caught the eye of Newell’s Old Boys number two coach Claudio Vivas who made the trip to the training centre in the heart of Rosario. It was here that he saw something special as Messi was now under the stewardship of Grandoli Sports Centre No 8’s new coach Gabriel Digerolamo. He was putting a team off 11-12 year olds together and was asked if he had space for one more. From there, the rest was history.

“He was from another world. He dribbled with the ball so closely it was like watching someone who had been given years of training in how to do it. He played like he does now, dribbling and scoring lots of goals. He was brilliant at anticipating what his team mates, his opponents and the goalkeeper would do.” Gabriel Digerolamo

Digerolamo went down the unusual route of playing Messi as a sweeper. An astute tactic when you get past the surface as with the ability that Messi has, it was the natural place to put him as he could dribble past the entire team from the half way line which is not dissimilar from what occurs at Barcelona from time-to-time. Messi’s next coach played him as a defensive midfielder and it was from here that he would go on to score over 100 goals that season and for the following seasons after.

Every coach that had the honour of honing Messi’s talents all had the same worry; Messi was far too short for his age and he wasn’t growing like the other boys. While playing for Newell’s Old Boys, the doctors at the club urged Messi’s Parents to speak to a child growth expert. After a year of examining Messi, Doctor Schwarzstein had found the hormone deficiency that was hampering Messi’s height and began a course of injecting the missing hormone. Over the next two years, Messi grew at a ‘normal’ rate and his confidence increased in line with his height. However at a pricey £300-£650 per month, which wasn’t a problem during the 90’s as it was covered by the Government, but come the year 2000 Argentina was in the midst of quite severe fiscal troubles. Without this funding Messi’s treatments could not be paid for by his family and Newell’s couldn’t help him either. River Plate were very interested in Messi’s services but weren’t in a financial position to cover the treatment. The only team that showed a concrete interest and were willing to fund his medical bills were Barcelona after Scouts had become aware of Messi’s talent. They offered Messi a trial and after a family meeting and the famous ‘napkin contract’, Messi and his Father moved to Spain.

“In Barcelona, on the 14th of December of 2000 and in the presence of Josep Minguella and Horacio (Gaggioli), Carles Rexach, FCB technical secretary, it commits under his responsibility and despite some views against it to sign the player Lionel Messi, as long we stick to the amounts agreed upon.”


At 13 years old, this was the first time that Barcelona had signed such a young talent from abroad and it wasn’t long before he was turning heads at La Masia. Growing up alongside Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, they formed a formidable side in the youth leagues and while Pique and Fabregas moved to England, Messi made his official debut as a 16 year old in 2003 against Porto. It wasn’t until the 16th October 2004 that he started breaking more records in becoming the youngest player in La Liga when he made his professional debut against Espanyol.

Messi then became the youngest scorer in La Liga for Barcelona when he scored his first professional goal against Albacete in 2005 at the tender age of 17. It is quite interesting to note that Messi also played for Barcelona B during this season and scored 6 in 17 matches in the Segunda División.

The Start Of Something Special

The 2005/2006 season was the season that Lionel Messi signed a contract extension as a first team player and let him play alongside the best player around at that time in Ronaldinho. They forged quite the partnership and Messi received a standing ovation when he was substituted as the fans recognised the shining star within their squad. Messi’s season ended prematurely when he was injured against Chelsea in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. The tournament that Barcelona ended up winning that season.

“Every time he plays, Leo Messi reminds me more of Maradona, both left-footed and short, Messi is the best player in the world, along with Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. For us it is not a surprise. Since he began to come and train with us and we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.” Ronaldinho

Messi started the next season a stronger player and it was this season he established himself as a first-team player. Anyone involved in his past knew that this was always inevitable but to displace current members of the Barcelona squad, on paper at least, seemed difficult. It was this season that his scoring exploits became apparent and he ended the season with 14 in 26 matches. He starred in El Clasico, scoring a hat-trick to give 10 man Barcelona the draw in a fantastic 3-3 match.

In an already career defining season, Messi went on to score one of the best goals that anyone has ever seen and he didn’t help the ‘New Maradona’ tag he had been labelled with. Against Getafe Messi took the ball from the half way line, beat 6 players and slotted home with ease. There have been comparisons with Maradona in the past but this goal was nearly identical to the goal Maradona scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.

The following 2007-2008 season saw Messi start to receive the plaudits that he deserved. The Spanish press were calling for him to be named the best player in the world and various figures in football echoed those sentiments. However he finished third in the Ballon d’Or behind Kaka and eventual winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi suffered a fourth thigh injury in three seasons and it kept him out of the side for quite a while. There were claims that his hormone deficiency was the cause however since then there has not been a recurrence and that’s for the better of everyone. Messi finished the season with 16 goals and 13 assists, the former number continued to grow and it still is.

In 2008-2009, Messi took the number 10 shirt from the departing Ronaldinho. Along with taking the number, he also inherited his responsibility. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge knew that this would never be an issue for Messi and it couldn’t have been compounded better with another record-breaking season on the way. Messi scored 9 Champions League goals, won his first Copa Del Rey, scored twice in a 6-2 Real Madrid battering and scored in the Champions League final to give Barcelona the final cup to claim a historic treble. This was the first time that it had happened in Spanish history and Messi went on to finish the season with 38 goals and 18 assists in all competitions.

After his exploits the previous season, Lionel Messi won his first Ballon d’Or by beating Cristiano Ronaldo by quite some margin. It was during the 2009-2010 season that he helped Barcelona win the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup, capping off an amazing calendar year for Messi. Under the stewardship of Guardiola, Messi was moved into the centre as a ‘false-9’ and went on to have another prolific season.

“He is a unique player. The best player I’ve ever seen and I think we’ll ever see.” Pep Guardiola

He’s been called the best for a number of years now and when a player of Guardiola’s calibre can have such superlatives, it is only correct that a €250m buy out clause was included in Messi’s contract extension. He signed until 2016 and has always said that he never wants to leave Barcelona. When you’re on such a tangent as a player, there’s no reason to leave when you have Xavi and Iniesta playing with you.

Messi went on to win the FIFA World Player of the Year title as well as scoring his first 4 goal haul in a single match against Arsenal. Those Champions League goals took Messi past Rivaldo as the competition’s top scorer for a Barcelona player. He also equalled Ronaldo’s record of 34 league goals and for a second year in a row was named La Liga’s player of the year. His goal and assist tally for this season finished on 47 and 11 respectively.

Season after season Messi has improved and has not stopped breaking records. The 2010-2011 season was no different in helping Barcelona have a 16 match unbeaten run. In April of that season he surpassed his 47 goal tally from last season and went on to score a colossal 53 goals as well as providing 24 assists. On the way to this figure, Messi scored one of the greatest and my personal favourite El Clasico goals (albeit in the Champions League).

Messi went on to score 12 Champions League goals that season which is only 2 away from the all-time record of 14 by José Alfatini. His exploits did not go unnoticed by the Ballon d’Or panel, which awarded him the accolade for the second year in a row.

A Record Breaking Year

The 2011-2012 season became one of folklore for many reasons but one that’s been highlighted continually in the press. From numbers alone, Messi has got better and better year on year and there is no one out there at his level. The start of this season saw Messi score 3 against Real Madrid to help lift the Spanish Supercup and then score again in the European Supercup to claim that trophy too.

You’d think there wouldn’t be many more records to break but it was this season that he overtook Lázló Kubala as Barcelona’s La Liga (132) and all competitions (194) top goalscorer. It wasn’t long after that he scored his 200th goal for Barcelona and it’s crazy to think he has achieved this at the tender age of 24. Messi won his second World Club Cup and again shined by scoring two and overshadowing the prodigious talent that is Neymar. Messi then broke another record by becoming the first player to score 5 goals in a Champions League game in a 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen.

It was in March of that season that he became Barcelona’s all time leading goalscorer by scoring his 233rd goal in all competitions. He then equalled the Champions League record of 14 goals mentioned earlier. Had he not missed that penalty against Chelsea, he would have most likely put Barcelona through and beat that record also.

In May during the run up to the end of the season, Messi overtook Gerd Müller’s record of 67 goals in a season by scoring a hat-trick against Málaga. It was his seventh hat-trick of the season and confirmed him as the best goalscorer in a single European season. He went on to score in the Copa Del Rey final, winning Guardiola his last trophy as Barcelona manager and finished the season with 73 goals and 29 assists in all competitions. His La Liga tally was 50 and 16 respectively.

To cap off his most amazing season yet, Messi won the Ballon d’Or for the third time in a row (equalling Platini) and was named UEFA’s Best Player in Europe. He beat his compatriots Xavi and Iniesta to both awards, to which he said was for them as much as it was for himself.

The current season is only half way through but it wasn’t without its records. Messi surpassed Pelé’s record of 75 goals in a calendar year to move within 9 of Gerd Müller’s record. In December Messi scored twice against Athletic Bilbao which helped him equal César Rodriguez’s record of 190 La Liga goals for Barcelona. It wasn’t long before he surpassed both Müller’s and Rodriguez’s records by scoring another brace against Real Betis. Müller’s was a record that stood since 1972 and it’s a privilege to have been around to witness such magic.

“My record stood for 40 years – 85 goals in a year – and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic.” Gerd Müller

Messi’s goalscoring exploits did not stop here as he ended the calendar year with 91 goals, a feat I can only see be bettered by Messi alone. He was then again rewarded with a contract extension until 2018, at which point he will be 31 and no doubt have broken a plethora of records.

All of Messi’s 91 goals can be viewed here. What a player.

Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and that is undoubted. To compare him with Cristiano Ronaldo, who himself is a brilliant player, is nonsensical. Playing the numbers game, it is clear to see who is the better player but it’s not always about that. Messi has the balance, touch, speed and agility of a player that hasn’t been seen for decades. He resembles what Maradona showed the world during his time in the game but do not mistake this as a comparison to who is the better player. This isn’t about that. This is about realising what we have right now and appreciating that he is the best at what he does.
It must be irksome for great players of the past however Johann Cruyff said it best:

“Messi obviously could not be compared to me as he is a completely different type of player; he is more in the mould of Maradona. What everyone should be especially happy about is that every era has its own heroes. Why would one be less than the other? Pele was a hero in his time, I was in my period and Messi’s time is now. He is a joy to behold. Instead of comparing, we should just be really happy that we are able to enjoy players like Messi and Ronaldo today.”

Oct 282012

Victor Valdes
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 470

Martin Montoya
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 9-years-old
First team appearances: 16

Carlos Puyol
Born: Lleida, Catalonia
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 563

Gerard Pique
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 190

Jordi Alba
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 9-years-old
First team appearances: 10

Xavi Hernandez
Born: Terrassa, Catalonia
Joined the club: 11-years-old
First team appearances: 643

Sergio Busquets
Born: Sabadell, Catalonia
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 204

Andres Iniesta
Born: Fuentealbilla, Spain
Joined the club: 12-years-old
First team appearances: 417

Cesc Fabregas
Born: Arenys de Mar, Catalonia
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 60

Pedro Rodrigues
Born: Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 183

Lionel Messi
Born: Rosario, Argentina
Joined the club: 13-years-old
First team appearances: 343