Tito Vilanova gave his first press conference as Barcelona manager yesterday, and instantly found himself fielding questions about Argentine playmaker Lionel Messi.
The 25-year-old sensation bagged 73 goals last term for the Blaugrana, but couldn’t prevent Pep Guardiola’s side from crashing out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage and finishing second in La Liga.
Guardiola would ultimately walk away from the job with just the Copa del Rey in the bag last term, leaving question marks over the future role of Messi at the Camp Nou.
However, Vilanova is convinced that the attacking midfielder can get even better under his stewardship in Catalonia, and went as far as to suggest that scoring 100 goals would be good individual progress.
"Leo Messi has a specific role in this team. Last season he scored a lot of goals, hopefully he will score the same numbers of goals. That was crucial to the team. To have more progress in this team he has to score 100 goals, if he can do that, our numbers will be much better,” the former assistant told the world’s media.
“Certainly he has progressed. At the beginning, I thought that he had a lot to improve. He is scoring with the left leg, with the head, when people say that he could not do it. He is more complete now, he understands the game and he is the first to take on extra responsibility."
So, the big question is, can Messi get any better? At 25, he still has plenty of time to continue his development, with five La Liga, three Champions League and two Copa del Rey trophies already housed in a rather large cabinet.
Individually, three Ballon d’Or awards are the tip of the iceberg, and some of the records the former Newell’s Old Boys prodigy has set may never be broken again.
To pick some of the most eye-catching achievements: 150 La Liga goals at the age of 24 years, 270 days; A goal in 10 consecutive La Liga matches; Five goals in a single Champions League game; Eight hat-tricks in a La Liga season; Top Champions League scorer four years in a row.
You could spend all day listing the achievements of a player widely recognised as the greatest of his generation. Messi is already compared to the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona in debates over who is the best of all-time, and with perhaps another decade left in the game, there is plenty to suggest that he could claim that mythical title.
Were he to score 100 goals in a season, then surely there would be no debate. But realistically, reaching three-figures in a single season is an unrealistic challenge, even for a player of Messi’s caliber.
He would need to stay clear of injuries all season – difficult when defenders are trying to take you down at every opportunity – and also not pick up any suspensions.
Additionally, there would be no opportunities for rest in European or Cup games, irrespective of whether Barca had already qualified for the next stage or round of a competition. Vilanova would not be willing to risk his star player’s fitness for what would be an irrelevant game.
If any player could make the magical 100, it would be Messi. However, the level of competition in Europe is now too strong to make a serious run at such a big number, with players forced to play at least two games a week on a regular basis.
73 goals in 60 games is a quite staggering achievement, and it’s easy to get carried away with a suggestion like Messi scoring 100. However, Vilanova will know that it’s not going to happen, and would realistically prefer the goals to be spread across more players in the Barca ranks.
With Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in the ranks, they aren’t short of goals elsewhere, and Spanish striker David Villa should be back from injury for the start of the campaign.
They will all want to reach double figures as a minimum, and that would mean a staggering 160 goals if Messi were able to reach the ton on his own.
It’s not going to happen, I’m afraid, but if anybody was going to prove me wrong, it would be this football phenomenon.
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