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December 12, 2012

Direct Kick: Messi writes his name in the record books

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Records are meant to be broken. You’ve heard that over the years in sports, but there are some records that seem untouchable.

The more meaningful records are the ones with longevity. If they’ve lasted a long time they must be hard to break.

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in baseball is one of those. Joltin’ Joe has held that record for 71 years, since 1941. The closest anyone has come is Pete Rose, who in 1978 hit in 44 straight games. Given that the average baseball player fails 3 out of every 10 times at bat, that record could go on for several, several more years.

The most important records are those with longevity. Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs lasted for 39 years until Hank Aaron broke it in 1974. Aaron would hold the record for 33 years before Barry Bonds surpassed it in 2007.

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak of 2,130 seemed untouchable for 56 years before Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995. Ripken would retire having played in 2,632 games in a row.

Wilt Chamberlain still holds the NBA record for most points in a game with 100, a feat he accomplished in 1962. The closest anyone has come to that is when Kobe Bryant dropped 81 against Toronto in 2006.

This year we have witnessed two more records that at one time seemed to be unreachable.

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints broke the 52 year record of the great Johnny Unitas for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, 47. Brees broke that record earlier this season when he tossed a TD in his 48 straight game.

On Sunday the latest record fell when Lionel Messi scored twice in the first 25 minutes for Barcelona against Real Betis, giving him 86 goals in 2012, breaking the record that was held since 1972 by Germany’s Gerd Muller, when Der Bomber found the back of the net 85 times. Messi scored the tying goal in the 16th minute and then claimed the record as his own in the 25th minute.

For people who complain that there isn’t enough scoring in soccer, wrap your mind around that. Messi has scored 86 times this year, and the year isn’t over with yet. And to think his season almost came to an end earlier in the week when he suffered a knee injury in a Champion’s League game which at first seemed more serious than it turned out to be.

As a former striker I can attest how hard it is to score goals. To consistently score goals, like Messi and Muller did, is unthinkable.

Modern day fans probably had no idea who Unitas or Muller were until Brees and Messi broke their records. And that’s a shame. Kind of like the UK players who had no idea about the Christian Laettner shot that gave Duke the win over Kentucky in one of the greatest college games ever. Players and fans should learn the history of the teams they play for or root for. But that’s not what this column is about.

No, it is about Messi and his record and the man who once held it.

In my opinion, Messi is a more complete player than Muller was. But I think the German was a better goal scorer.

For 32 years, Muller held the record for most goals in World Cup competition. And his mark of 68 goals in 62 International appearances is still mind boggling. He scored 66 goals in 74 European club games. He scored 365 goals in 472 Bundesliga games. He ranks 10th on all time International goal scorers, but played in fewer games than any of the players ranked in the Top 25. Plus, it took Muller 60 games to score 85 goals, while Messi did it in 65.

But that’s not taking anything away from Messi, a mere 25 years old with many years left on the pitch. His goals that tied and broke the record were beautiful. He is an amazing player with amazing skills. Some are already claiming he is the best that ever played. That’s a mighty strong statement considering the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, George Best, Diego Maradona, just to name a few.

He has to yet win a World Cup with Argentina, then again, Cruyff never won with Holland and Best with Northern Ireland. Just because you are a great player doesn’t mean you can win a World Cup. It takes a team to do that.

Messi is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and we are fortunate to witness this great player in his prime. Sit back and enjoy the wonder that is Lionel Messi.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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