Another week, another landmark for Lionel Messi as the Argentina superstar scored his 800th career goal in Thursday’s friendly against Panama.
It has been an almighty journey for the all-time great, who has basically won everything on offer and claimed a record haul of seven Ballons d’Or along the way.
The player regarded by many as the greatest ever, Messi reached his latest milestone with a picture-perfect free-kick in the 89th minute against Panama, curling one into the top corner after crashing two prior free-kicks into the crossbar.
Although Messi hits new landmarks so frequently, at the age of 35 he is approaching a point where such achievements will become a little rarer.
With that in mind, it is worth celebrating Messi and his feats while we still can. Read on as we delve into the Opta data behind his latest accomplishment.
▶ Lionel Messi
🇦🇷 Argentina 2 🆚 0 Panama 🇵🇦#ArgentinaNT #VamosArgentina pic.twitter.com/0J3IJe2WGa
— Selección Argentina in English (@AFASeleccionEN) March 24, 2023
On the receiving end
It is nearly 18 years since Messi’s first goal in professional football. Then a floppy-haired 17-year-old, he latched on to a Ronaldinho pass before lifting a clever lob over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena on May 1, 2005.
That goal has since become famous given its significance in marking the arrival of Messi – it also left a mark on the career of Valbuena.
“The press calls me every time he’s broken a record or achieved something important, especially press from Catalonia,” he told Marca nine years later. “To me, it’s a funny anecdote in my career as a goalkeeper.”
That same season he also started playing for Barça C and Barça B, making 37 official appearances and scoring 35 goals. He also won the league with the U18B team and played for the 🇦🇷 U20 national team👏 pic.twitter.com/h7ZK7edF6W
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) June 24, 2020
Well, it’s all right for some. Many goalkeepers have had to contend with Messi smashing past them a few more times than Valbuena’s single concession.
In total, 232 goalkeepers had let in a goal against Messi before Thursday. No one conceded more than Diego Alves, however, with the Brazilian beaten 21 times. Iker Casillas is a close second (19).
Returning the favour
Of course, over his career Messi has also become synonymous with creativity, routinely setting up goals for his team-mates.
But given how many he has scored, he has also had to benefit from plenty of service from his colleagues as well – when he is not doing it all himself.
There are several players with whom he’s struck up particularly effective on-pitch relationships.
For years, his combination with Dani Alves was unrivalled, the Brazilian setting up 42 of Messi’s goals, but then along came Luis Suarez.
Suarez, Messi and Neymar were a revered and feared front three, their understanding on the pitch so deadly. The Uruguayan ended up assisting 47 goals for Messi across their six years together, with no one else teeing him up more often.
Messi also has his favourite clubs to score against. Impressively, Real Madrid (26) are right up there – but there are four teams he has punished more.
Athletic Bilbao (29), Valencia (31) and Atletico Madrid (32) all struggled against him, but if there has been one team who have resembled lambs to the slaughter when facing Messi, it’s Sevilla (38).
Heights few have reached
The world of football numbers can be a little muddy. What constitutes an official goal? What’s an official competition?
As such, there has been lots of confusion regarding the ‘official’ goals hauls of players down the years – we’re looking at you, Pele and Romario.
The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) considers Cristiano Ronaldo to be the world record holder, stating in December 2021 that the Portugal forward was the first player to reach 800 official career goals.
This makes Messi the second to reach that figure, with Opta corroborating his career record. There remains a possibility he will eventually reach 1,000. No one is expecting him to get there soon, though.
After all, as good as he remains, achievements like scoring 91 times in a calendar year – as he managed in 2012 – appear to be beyond him these days.
That was his best ever year, which – perhaps unsurprisingly – coincided with his most prolific season (2011-12), when he scored 82 goals.
Still, the 35 goals he plundered in 2022 wasn’t a bad return, especially given that haul included seven en route to World Cup success with Argentina.
Still to come?
There aren’t many records at Barcelona that don’t already belong to Messi. Top scorer? Done. Most appearances? Completed it. The most-photographed person at Camp Nou? Probably.
It seems unlikely Messi will be around at PSG long enough to have the same kind of impact there, but he certainly still has career targets in sight.
There’s the aforementioned 1,000 goals landmark, though before then he will have his eyes on more international achievements.
Messi’s free kick to seal Thursday’s 2-0 win left him just one from reaching 100 with Argentina, and after that he’ll perhaps have designs on usurping both Ali Daei (109) and Ronaldo (120), the two highest-scoring players in men’s international football.
Similarly, with Ronaldo now out of the way in Saudi Arabia, Messi could also take his record for the most Champions League goals (140) – Messi is on 129.
But regardless of what else he does or doesn’t go on to achieve, Thursday’s milestone is just another reminder of how fortunate we’ve been to witness Messi’s truly remarkable career.