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"Superman" Messi Nears Another Record, But Does It Matter?

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While Lionel Messi's brace against Spartak put him 2nd all-time in European goals, and closer to breaking Gerd Muller's record for goals in a calendar year, not to mention tying a record over a hundred years old for international goals... does any of that really matter?

David Ramos

Lionel Messi has a thing for doubles. Of the 24 goals on the season, 18 have come in pairs. Strangely, he only has one hat trick and he he has had only three single-goal efforts. And for people who are obsessed with stats, his Champions League braces are now part of a record. After scoring twice against Spartak Moscow, Messi has the most two-goal matches in Champions League history.

The goals also served to tie him with Ruud van Nistelrooy as the second-best goalgetter of all time in European competitions, behind Raul Gonzalez. It also equaled a mark for most international goals in a calendar year that had stood since 1909. And it put him just five goals shy of Gerd Muller's record for most goals for club and country in a year.

The implications are historical and make the debate about who should win the player of the year award, the coveted FIFA Ballon d'Or, seem even sillier. Has a player so thoroughly dominated a year like Messi has done in 2012? And yet, the debate remains. Why is that?

In the post match declarations, Messi's red jersey hung around his neck (as he had not fully taken it off), while he still wore his specially-designed blue undershirt meant to keep Barca's players warm in the cold Moscow pitch.

A man wearing a skin-tight blue shirt and a red garment draping from his neck and onto his back? It had to be Superman. "That explains it," we all thought.

The reporter quickly brought up the litany of records that Leo had broken and was breaking. Messi seemed almost embarrassed that the reporter was bringing them up as he said it did not really matter to him. He praised the win and remarked that the clean sheet was very important.

Do records matter? They seem to matter little to the Argentine. Winning, as they say, is everything, and he seems to share that belief. And therein lies the talking point behind the Ballon d'Or doubts: while Barcelona had a successful season by "normal" standards, winning four trophies and being close to making it six, their failure to capture either the Champions League or La Liga titles last season was a big disappointment.

Jose Mourinho argued that Messi's goals were all in vain since they had not resulted in major silverware. One wonders if he would say the same of the majority of Cristiano Ronaldo's goals for Real Madrid, but I suppose that's not the point.

In reality, goals matter even when they don't win championships. People will remember Zlatan Ibrahimovic's bicycle kick against England for years, even though it was a meaningless goal in a friendly. I still have visions of Roberto Carlos's "impossible" free kick despite barely remembering the competition it was scored in (a friendly international competition that England won).

People remember goals that win matches even if they don't win leagues, and finishing 2nd or 4th are not quite the same. The truth is, goals that don't win championships mean something simply because they mean something to all of us, players and fans alike. But even still, do these records matter?

The answer, I guess, is not really. A record from 103 years ago is basically impossible to compare to Messi's from just yesterday. And most of us didn't know it even existed prior to a few days ago. If Messi equals Muller's record, or breaks it, or falls just short, would it make a difference? His year is still astounding and so is Muller's.

So why do we pay so much attention to them? Maybe we're just bored, or maybe it's to liven up discussions. Maybe it's pointless. But why would something meaningless hold us all captive?

I think the answer is that it's the same reason we keep any statistics: because they provide the only concrete proof to our arguments, the only way of making comparisons that is based on facts and not just opinions.

While we cannot simply point to Messi's goal haul and declare him the best ever, it's certainly not a bad starting point. And while the record may really mean very little to "Superman", it means something to people who enjoy historical context. Not much, but something. And that is enough for me.