Why I Don’t Care About Messi’s 91 Goals

My brother was in the bathroom when Mark McGwire stepped up to the plate and sent the first pitch into the stands with a line-drive home run. I was watching, along with my father, and we both yelled, happy to have seen this moment of sporting history. My brother was furious at McGwire because he was almost back in the room. Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a year had stood for 37 years, but, as the saying goes, records are meant to be broken.

Lionel Messi recently broke Müller’s calendar year scoring record of 85, which the German set in 1972. That record, if you are too lazy to do the math, has lasted 40 years before Messi sauntered onto the scene with a brilliant 365 days. The thing is, when it comes down to it, I don’t care. In the greater scheme of things, Lionel Messi vs Gerd Müller is one of those statistical wankfests that a lot of people love to get into. The New York Times got in on the act, comparing Messi-Müller to Ruth-Maris because of the difference in how many games they played during their respective record-setting and record-breaking years (and all that before Messi had even broken the record).

It would be fairly absurd of me to say that I statistics don’t matter because most of you know that I don’t think that. We even have a category for it, after all. But there is a difference, I think, in comparing meaningful statistics and meaningless ones. Baseball is an incredibly easy example given the glut of statistics that comes out of it, so I’ll use this example: Runs Batted In (RBI). For those of you who don’t know or just need a refresher, an RBI is a statistic used in baseball and softball to credit a batter when the outcome of his at-bat results in a run being scored. There are more nuances, but that should suffice. Roughly speaking, a lot of baseball fans get excited whenever someone gets 120 RBIs or more in a season. The record is apparently 191 by Hack Wilson in 1930. What’s important about the RBI is that it obviously requires teammates to get on base before one is able to hit them in. In 2004, Ichiro Suzuki broke the single season hit record, yet only had 60 RBIs. His team went a fairly abysmal 63-99 and finished bottom of the American League West.

What’s that got to do with Messi? Simple: glorious statistics do not translate to important feats. Watching Messi score 91 goals in a calendar year has been phenomenal, but not because Messi scored 91 goals in a calendar year. Rather, watching Messi play is a reminder that there is still art and beauty in this game we love so much. If he scores 3 in a match, it’s a wonderful prize, but it’s not particularly important to connect it to the game before it or the game after it. In some ways, it detracts from the grandness of what he’s accomplishing: he is revolutionizing the way millions of people think of the sport. To put a drab number on it (91 in 365!) is to make it seem less interesting, less significant, and even less challenging. Think of it this way: “Did you hear Fernando Torres has scored 2.75 goals per Chelsea manager?”

That’s a funny statistic, of course, but overall it’s meaningless: Torres won the Champions League and a domestic cup last year. Messi, who had only 19 goals fewer than all of Chelsea in last season’s domestic league, won a domestic cup and was knocked out of the Champions League by one of those rare Torres goals. When Messi scored 31 goals in 2010-11, coming in 2nd in his own domestic competition, the team won both the Champions League and La Liga. When Barça won the Triplete in 2008-09, it was Diego Forlan who scored the most league goals (though only by 1). In 2009-10, Messi won the Pichichi and the La Liga title. The team went out in the round of 16 in the Copa del Rey and in the semis in the Champions League.

The question for me, quite a few years later, is if I actually care that McGwire broke that home run record (artificially aided or not) or whether I care about other individual achievements in team sports. Ask a Yankees fan if they care if no one on their World Series-winning and record-setting team (125 wins, 50 losses including post season) had more than 23 home runs that year.

Messi is incredible. He is beyond incredible, in fact. His numbers do attest to that, sure, but they do not make him a great player. What makes him great is that he makes others better. Let’s focus on that.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. barca96
    December 30, 2012

    When I saw the title I thought it had Kxevin written all over it =p

  2. December 30, 2012

    I agree that the focus on statistics takes away from appreciation of football, mostly because the statistics that currently exist do not do a very good job of charting the game at all. It’s a very difficult game to quantify, much more so than games which are very well represented by statistics (baseball, cricket), or games that are fairly well represented by statistics (basketball, handegg).

    It takes away from even individual appreciation of Messi, because it lowers him to the level of a pure goalscorer, and translates all those beautiful moments to just numbers. We all know how much more he is than that, but casual fans don’t come to understand the depth of his game. And as you mentioned, it certainly takes away from the appreciation of the team, because the goal tallies are not even necessarily correlated with team success.

    Despite agreeing with all that, I was somehow still very much excited to see him break the record! I suppose if it had been broken in a loss, I would not have been though.

  3. dean
    December 30, 2012

    I think the reason this statistic is being hyped is because the masses are realizing that he is an anomaly, and the messi vs cr7 tangent is not selling anymore. So we shift the debate to gerd muller, whatever sells… It’s no wonder Godfrey Chitalu only got 5 mins in the spotlight, he’s just getting in the way of the narrative, afterall I’m sure more speculative records will be created for Messi to break, because he can, because it’s what we want to see.

    It’s good that you don’t care about this statistic, its meaningless. But having little to show for, in terms of trophies should hardly be a reason to stop the collective wanking. The wankfest has been induced by those who want to say they watched the GOAT play every week, it’s harmless, just ammunition to bring against the Maradona’s and Pele’s.

    • December 30, 2012

      You touch on something that I didn’t get into in the post because I thought it would take too long: chiefly that not caring about this goal record doesn’t actually change what I think of Messi. I actually adore watching Messi because he’s so unpredictable, so talented, and so capable of shifting a match at any moment. Yes, I enjoy the subtlety of watching Iniesta and Xavi play, but it’s hard to watch their calm shift into the proper space time and again on YouTube. Messi’s goals, on the other hand…

      I probably should have brought up Godfrey Chitalu, but again, length, though with you guys I probably shouldn’t worry about that. You all read everything. Chitalu scored an outrageous number of goals in Zambia in 1972 (what a year for goals!) while playing for the Kabwe Warriors and the national team. Wikipedia credits him with 74 goals in 103 games for the Zambia NT, so he was no slouch. Level of competition doesn’t really matter to me given the nature of team sports. If your teammates are too crap to give you the ball, you won’t score.

      Yet Chitalu’s record, the wankfest surrounding Messi breaking Muller’s European record, and any thought that it might matter does dishearten me a little. I would love to have watched Godfrey Chitalu, Gerd Muller, Pele, or Maradona play. I love that I get to watch Messi play. I do believe Messi is the best player I’ve ever seen, personally (I was at his breathtaking Meadowlands performance against Brazil this summer where he scored a hat trick, including a truly magnificent solo special in which he made Marcelo look like he was made of stone), but like the Michael Jordan vs Wilt Chamberlain vs Bill Russell debate, I could care less.

      Can’t we just appreciate watching these players because, well, they’re terrific? And that is where I have never liked watching Crynaldo. He’s got gobs and gobs and gobs of talent, but his personality, his desire to be Top Dog No Matter What (his “Keep Calm, I’m Here” goal celebrations, his pouting, his physical lashing out against those who best him) is so repulsive that he’s extra hateable because of his talent. Sometimes I wonder if I would have felt the same way about Maradona had I been around for his prime (I mean, I technically was, but I wasn’t watching soccer).

      Right. I’m hoping any of that made sense!

      • nzm
        December 30, 2012

        No one could accuse you of being one-eyed, Isaiah. 😆

        • yassir
          December 30, 2012

          Well Isiah its too bad you didn’t watch Maradona, i urge to find and watch some of his Napoly games from 1987 to 1990, just incredible, And yes i enjoy this team a lot, cant believe how lucky i am.

      • December 31, 2012

        I have watched Maradona and Messi. They both do nearly the same things. What makes Messi better is his consistency and higher number of goals and assists. If not for this, they are both artists to perfection on the field.

  4. Skipper5
    December 30, 2012

    idk how i feel about this one, i get his point that the record is meaningless in the context of a year in which we didnt win much. However wouldnt that be what makes the record more meaningful ie it gave us something to cheer about in a year in which we didn’t win much. Team victory over individual victory always, but i have a feeling in 20 years i will remember Messi’s 86 goal year more than i will any of the last 4 league titles we won. Messi’s goals are also a testament to what the team has been able to achieve, it takes a team to enable those 86 goals to go in. Why do we care about winning titles? History,Pride etc and that is why i care about Messi’s record. The piece of history it represents and the pride,honor glory it brings to the club. That record is more than just an individual honor.

    • Cesc
      December 31, 2012

      You are absolutely right Skipper.

      “The piece of history it represents and the pride,honor glory it brings to the club. That record is more than just an individual honor.”

      Barcelona took this talent, formed him, treated and everything else he is their producent. Symbol of their La Masia and club. Whatever Messi achives he dedicates it to his family, teammates and club.

      • barca96
        December 31, 2012

        But Skipper, the record stands at 91 goals now.

        • Skipper5
          January 1, 2013

          my bad barca96 the record is indeed at 91 haha 🙂
          @Cesc -as Ray tells us all the time “statistics dont do justice to Messi maaan” 91 goals is not only about Messi but this is a club feat, we have to view it in the larger context of this team and take it for what it is- another record of excellence that this team has achieved. it takes a team to score 91 goals. this record matters.

          • Cesc
            January 1, 2013

            I agree. Whatever he does got Barcelona written all over. He is revolutionizing the position 9 amout of goals scoring as much as this generation of barcelona have revolutinized football as it whole. Each player does something magnificent. They all are contributing something special.

  5. December 30, 2012

    What’s funny here is that the first two comments reference my alleged disdain or dislike of Messi. Bummer, that, because Isaiah has laid out an excellent contention here. Numbers, numbers, numbers. I’d love to know how many players had record-setting seasons on championship teams. No surprise that the club had its greatest success in Messi’s lowest-scoring year under Guardiola.

    As I have often said, Barça was 6 goals away from a treble last season. 6 lousy goals in a season rife with them. I recall a comment from Messi that he still thinks about that penalty miss against Chelsea. That, to me, says more about what kind of player he is than an individual accolade. That, and his comments that the record is nice, but he would much rather have had more trophies to celebrate.

    As for me personally, anyone who thinks that I don’t respect and appreciate what Messi does for the club is misguided in the extreme. Am I ever going to gush and coo as so many others do? No. Never. I’m just not like that about players. Never will be. Club first and foremost. Always. Players are just cogs in the machine, and the success of that machine is vastly more important to me than anything any individual player accomplishes on the pitch.

    Put another way, would anyone be talking about Messi’s goalscoring record had Barça won the treble?

    • Ben
      December 30, 2012

      Well, I thought the same thing but it wasn’t because I thought you dislike Messi. It’s more that you have stated that you value winning over records and as you mention in your post that you care more about the club than the players.

    • Cesc
      December 31, 2012

      at that time we had eto and henry scoring alot. Sanchez is a waste and pedro overrated. Villa lost his goal scoring instict. The kind of instinct that henry, eto and messi shared in 2009.

      • December 31, 2012

        Have to admit I just laughed when I read “Sanchez is a waste.”

        He creates space like few players I’ve seen. Does he score much? No. Has he ever scored much? No. So why would is he now suddenly expected to start scoring?

        • December 31, 2012

          I still think Messi is a succubus. That’s the only explanation.

          • Messiah10
            December 31, 2012

            Have to admit Kxevin that I had to look up that definition. Wow! lol.

            Succubus: In folklore traced back to medieval legend, a succubus (plural succubi) is a female demon or supernatural entity that appears in dreams, who takes the form of a human woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual intercourse. The male counterpart is the incubus. Religious traditions hold that repeated intercourse with a succubus may result in the deterioration of health or even death. – Wikipedia

          • December 31, 2012

            See? BFB is also educational. It should also be noted that the definition of the term has evolved into an entity that sucks the power or life force from something, not necessarily through copulations.

  6. December 30, 2012

    It seems to me you are arguing that appreciating the statistics and appreciating the beauty and significance of his play are mutually exclusive. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    When people watch him play they see something that many of us younger people haven’t seen in this sport before – he is so obviously more attuned to the game, so obviously better than anyone else on the pitch, so obviously dominant. Guardiola put it best when he said that Messi was beyond words, beyond description. But it is still human nature to try to put what we see in an understandable context. Numbers and statistics are one of the ways we do this – they provide us a platform to wrap our minds around just how much better he is than anyone else currently (and possibly ever) to play the sport.

    But that instinct doesn’t mean people who appreciate this record are unable to also appreciate the beauty of his play. They are too distinct things. I’m happy he set the record – I had a chance to marvel at how good he is during the games, and I have a platform with which I can discuss his achievements – particularly with those people who haven’t seen him play since there are no proper words to describe him.

    That is why the record is not meaningless.

  7. December 30, 2012

    Does anyone follow Milan?

    With Pato and probably Robinho on the way out, any chance that Bojan will stay?

  8. December 30, 2012

    A club that has paid us 24 mil for Zlatan over three years is not gonna lay down 14 for Bojan…

    As for Messi’s record, since the myriad of braces it took to obtain have gone a long way to putting us well ahead of any other team this Liga, hellz yes I care hehehe. Also the record is what will win him another balon d’or, a prize which has often been a source of pride for cules… Ronaldo’s frustration is an added bonus, of course.

    • Richzorz
      December 31, 2012

      But will a club that sells Zlatan for 24 mil over 3 years really charge 14 for Bojan…? :p

      The “record” will probably tip the Ballon D’Or in his favour for some who may have voted otherwise but I definitely prefer the quality of Messi’s goals over the quantity!!

  9. mic
    December 30, 2012

    Few years ago when I saw Barca play for the first time I did not know how many trophies they already had. I didn’t even recognize players on the pitch by name! But I was hooked anyway – by the style of their play. So I agree, I am not very excited about stats, be it number of goals or even number of trophies.

    • replayed
      December 31, 2012

      I am not very excited about stats, be it number of goals or even number of trophies.

      Yes, but what about kinds of trophies?

      In other words, would you place style above winning La Liga? Or even the CL?

      The question isn’t completely idle. Where would you rank Tito’s team if it succeeds in winning, say, the treble playing at it currently is and overcoming the obstacles it’s had to face? I suspect that on style points alone, you’d rank it below the 08-09 and the (even more dazzling but CdR-less) 10-11 team.

      But where where would you rank it against the other recent teams that didn’t win the most prestigious silverware to be had, but played what some style hounds might consider more, er, aesthetically pleasing football? Say, last year’s team.

      It’s probably way too early to begin the debate on where this team will rank, but it’s always worth pondering: winning or style, if you can’t win in style?

  10. December 31, 2012

    I am afraid these stats, are projecting Messi like Muller, just a goal scorer. Even reputed pundits do not talk about the beauty of his assists or put me in passes he create in each and every game and the other artistic things he does on the field. They forget a good percentage of his goals were scored when he is still marked by 2-4 players almost every game, facing buses. Even Maradona was nullified by a single player, Matheus,in 86WC final (he still managed a final assist). But I cant remember Messi being quietened by a single player. Either zonal marked, or by 2 -4 players, thats what we see with him. And he still do things.

    For me, he is the only perfect artist on field, after Maradona. I adore his runs and I worship his assists, more so those balls he manages to follow an imaginary line he draws through 5/6 defenders. Its a pity, most of the times these balls are wasted, especially since the second half of 2011-12 season.

  11. barca96
    December 31, 2012

    Happy New Year K Legit, outer space and to everyone in the Eastern Hemisphere.

  12. December 31, 2012

    Here’s a fun, related bit: yesterday (Sunday), Adrian Peterson was going for the single season rushing record in the NFL. He ended up 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s record, but had a last minute 26-yard (I think) runs that put his team in a position to kick a game-winning field goal and qualify for the playoffs. Losing or tying would have meant an early vacation.

    Peterson was interviewed by Pam Oliver immediately after the game ended and she asked, basically, how does it feel to be so close, but miss out on the record? Peterson talked about how he was happy to win and he’d done his best etc. Oliver then said something where she mentioned the number 9 and Peterson looked at her and asked “9? 9 what? I was 9 yards short? Oh. Wow. But we won, right?” and then walked off, a huge smile on his face.

    That’s awesome.

    • December 31, 2012

      Ya know, this lifelong Bears fan was actually rooting FOR the Vikings. Peterson’s comeback, Leslie Frazier (’85 Super Bowl Bear whose career was ruined by a stupid reverse on a kickoff, with the Bears up 46-10 …. blew out his knee), Packers lose, Lovie Smith gets fired …. so much like.

      Peterson summed things up perfectly, I thought. So cool.

    • KEVpitt
      December 31, 2012

      AP does go on to say in the Post match interview when he heard it was just 9 yards he was disappointed and he wish he had gotten it but it wasn’t meant to be other wise it would have happened. Players who are competitive always want new challenges. AP, messi, CR7. What separates messi from CR7 is his attitude. Messi’s stats are important individually and holistically without his goals where would Barca be this season!

  13. Josep
    December 31, 2012

    so many chicago cubs references 😀

    surprised there was no Paul Hornung references, tho, a Heisman winner on a 2-8 team. statisticis are annoying but are one of the few things you can use positively in an argument that can’t be denied. stats don’t lie.

    you can’t state x is better than y, but you can state x has scored more than y. but the state of statistics especially in american sports is ridiculous. they make up a new one each day.

    x team is 2-0 when converting 60% or more of 3rd down conversions, on sunday games at noon, when in a dome. stuff like that is whack

    • bhed
      December 31, 2012

      Since we’re already talking American football, and stats vs. the complete picture, I thought I’d chime in. Here in San Francisco, we recently benched our starting QB of 7(?) years in favor of a talented rookie (2nd year actually). Supporters of the previous starter constantly cited his stats to defend him, and they were indeed better than most NFL starters, but they masked his many shortcomings. My reply (often in my head) was “yes, but did you actually WATCH those games? He’s never been as good as his numbers!” Even in preseason, you could just see it in the rookie’s eyes, he had “it”.

      So it goes with Messi (minus much debate). Just watch him for crying out loud, and you’ll see!

      • Josep
        December 31, 2012

        Haha exactly! I mean Alex Smith was a former FIRST PICK OVERALL. and was cut by the same team before!
        Look no further than when Rex Grossman constantly had a Bears team around 11-5 each year and in the playoffs.

  14. December 31, 2012

    My only issue with statistics is that they reduce the unquantifiable to something quantifiable, while also affecting the worldview as regards others frolicking in that same hemisphere.

    An above comment is part of what I mean: “Sanchez is a waste.”

    So. Let’s look at that. Hell, Messi has scored 91 goals, and is the best player on the planet, therefore goals are the ultimate measure of goodness, right? Mmmmm, maybe not. Would Messi still be the greatest player on the planet with, say, 60 goals? Yes. Without a doubt. But because of the need to quantify things with numbers, players such as Sanchez suffer in the comparison. He isn’t scoring goals. Okay. And ….

    This cule isn’t consoled by records. Individual pursuits give me precious little succor at the end of a season that only featured a Copa title, sadder still, a Copa title won by unleashing a display of football that we saw only rarely that season. One part of me wonders if Messi’s memories of his record-setting year won’t be forever tinged with thoughts of what might have been.

  15. December 31, 2012

    My wishlist for 2013:

    — Barça not only wins the league but stays at least 10 points in front of RM all season (added bonus if AM ends up in second!).

    — Iniesta wins the Ballon d’Or (won’t happen, I’ll be plenty happy enough when Messi wins it again).

    — RM gets knocked out of the Champions’ League in the next round. No decima for you!

    — Pep finally tells Roman Abramovich what he can do with his billions, decides to coach a Serie B club in Italy for peanuts.

    — A fully recovered Abidal lifts the Champions’ League trophy at Wembley again, and dedicates it to a fully recovered Tito Vilanova standing next to him.

    Happy New Year to all of you, and best wishes for 2013!

    • garry
      December 31, 2012

      If ALL of that happens, its gonna be one hell of an year for sure…

  16. garry
    December 31, 2012

    I hope (wish? delude myself?) that Pep manages Swansea…

  17. December 31, 2012

    Wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe new years! Hope everyone is well and has a great 2013.

    • Jim
      December 31, 2012

      Just like to add my best wishes from Scotland for all you wish yourselves in the new year.

  18. Manish
    January 1, 2013

    Well all i must say for people to who dont care are totally spoilt..and dont realize the value of things till it’s gone..

    For all those who don’t care.. I must say.. I am sorry.. You are LIVING in the MESSI era period.

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