Will he or won't he become the greatest footballer ever?
Lionel Messi's latest record-breaking feat on Wednesday when he smashed Gerd Muller's landmark of 67 goals in a single European season has only strengthened his case to be recognized as the best player in the history of the game.
While the jury is still debating whether he really deserves to be hailed as the greatest of all time, as some of his colleagues at Barca have labeled him, there is no doubting that Messi is, by quite a distance, the best of his generation. And he has made breaking records his part-time hobby this campaign.
He became only the third player to win the Ballon d'Or three times, he is now the joint top scorer in a single European Cup season with 14 goals, he became the first player to score five goals in a single game in the Champions League era, he is the youngest player to reach 150 La Liga goals, he has surpassed Cristiano Ronaldo's haul of 40 strikes in one league term, he became Barca's all-time top marksman in official games, and of course there is his tally of 68 competitive goals and counting which took him past Muller. All of those were achieved in the first five months of 2012.
But despite his numerous records and goals, there are still countless major milestones that he has yet to shatter, milestones that, many would argue, the 24-year-old has to reach before he can be considered the greatest footballer ever.
Below we list some of the all-time records Messi is yet to conquer.
BARCELONA & LA LIGA
Messi recently wiped out three records from this list: he has beaten Clemente Gracia's mark of 59 goals (including friendlies) in a single season as he currently stands on 70 (including friendlies), and he has eclipsed two of Cristiano Ronaldo's records from last season - six hat tricks in one term (currently on seven) and 40 goals in one La Liga campaign (currently on 46).
Looking further ahead, the Argentine is bound to become Barcelona's all-time top scorer in the Spanish top flight as he needs just 28 strikes to usurp Cesar Rodriguez's tally of 192. And if he maintains his current scoring rate, he could overtake Paulino Alcantara in a season-and-a-half's time to become the club's all-time top marksman including unofficial games.
BARCELONA & CHAMPIONS LEAGUE/EUROPE
Any records in this category will have to be saved for next season and beyond. But barring a hat trick from Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez in this year's Champions League final against Chelsea, Messi will tie Gerd Muller's total of four top-scorer awards in the competition.
One milestone that the Argentine did crack recently was Ruud van Nistelrooy's 12 goals in a single Champions League campaign. With 14 now, the Barca ace is leveled Jose Altafini's mark, which was set during the European Cup era.
Messi continues to hone in on Raul's legendary haul of of 71 goals in Europe's premier club competition. He is only 20 strikes behind, and at the rate he is going, he could comfortably smash that record within the next two campaigns - especially as the Schalke 04 veteran will be leaving Europe this summer.
ARGENTINA & INTERNATIONALS
A lack of success on the international stage has always been Messi's Achilles heel, and it's one of the main reasons why his fiercest critics, including Pele, have so far refused to recognize him as one of the greatest players of all time. On paper, he looks unlikely to equal or break any of the significant landmarks such as Ronaldo's status as the all-time World Cup top scorer, or beating Just Fontaine for most goals scored in a single finals tournament.
However, overtaking Gabriel Batistuta as his country's leading marksman is a distinct possibility, as he requires 35 more goals with the best part of a decade of international soccer ahead of him. As for individual honors, Messi could go into the history books in eight months' time if he becomes the first footballer to claim four Ballon d'Or crowns. With the way things are going so far in 2012, you wouldn't bet against him.
There is one record to end all records, the Holy Grail of landmarks which, if Messi is to achieve, could go some way to closing all arguments about whether or not he is the greatest ever: Pele's 1281-goal haul for club and country.
With only 270 official goals so far for club and country, Leo is still over 1000 strikes away from Pele's legendary mark. That's a long way to go and Barca will have to dig up the archives of Messi's goals in the junior teams, and he may have to keep a log of the number of times he will score when playing against his grandchildren in the backyard if he is to reach that tally!
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