Goals record a bittersweet ending for Messi

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And there we have it. With the same inevitability as Britain's slump back into recession, Lionel Messi has recorded the most potent individual season ever witnessed in professional European football.

Three goals against Malaga on Wednesday evening - the Argentine's seventh hat-trick of the season - in Barcelona's 4-1 victory at the Nou Camp took Messi to 68 in 57 appearances in all competitions.

German striker Gerd Muller had previously held the record, having found the net on 67 occasions for Bayern Munich during the 1972-73 season, and had said it would be an 'honour' if Messi to surpassed him.

Until last weekend, the 24-year-old had been stuck on 63 goals since the 2-1 defeat of Levante in early April, and had to endure three games without finding the net, while he also missed costly penalty against Chelsea.

Only on one other occasion this season had Messi gone 270 minutes without scoring a goal but, after a spell of 19 goals in nine games during February and March, few would have doubted he would trump Muller come the end of the campaign.

Such are the goalscoring exploits of Messi and Real Madrid counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo it is difficult to emphatically state that the former's new record will never be beaten, yet it will come as a great source of pride for the former.

Messi could, however, quite remarkably end the season without the Pichichi Trophy, with Ronaldo only trailing him by two goals in the league with only one game remaining.

But, having secured a first La Liga triumph since his move to the Santiago Bernabeu from Old Trafford, Ronaldo would quite happily relinquish the crown he won last year to his illustrious rival.

"What I really wanted was to win what I didn't have," Ronaldo told reporters following Real's title clinching win over Athletic Bilbao.


"I have two Golden Boot awards at home. If I get a third, all well and good. But the important thing for me tonight was to win the league."

Yet, ultimately, all these individual accolades will arrive as bittersweet for Messi, with his goals not enough to take Barcelona to any success of note this season.

Yes, the Catalans could end the campaign with a triumph in the Copa del Rey, but this season will be remembered more for their failings than their successes.

The failure to keep the Primera Division out of the clutches of Real will hang heavy around the necks of Barca's players, as will the manner of their Champions League semi-final defeat at the hands of Chelsea.

Pep Guardiola's decision to leave his position as manager at the end of the season has added to the sense of deflation at the Nou Camp, and even a Copa de Rey victory will fail to mask a season of disappointment.

Messi will enter into a well earned summer break having collected a third successive Ballon d'Or, become Barcelona's all-time record scorer and claimed a place in European goalscoring history.

Yet, one suspects, he would be willing to relinquish these titles to ensure Barca had triumphed in the league and Champions League, and Guardiola had decided to sign a contract extension.

This is not to say that the Rosario native won't revel in his individual achievements this term but, being as humble as he is, Messi will be left to ponder what might have been this season for Barca as a whole.

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