By KS Leong
Will he or won't he become the greatest footballer ever?
Lionel Messi's latest record-breaking feat on Wednesday when he smashed Gerd Muller's landmark of 67 goals in a single European season has only strengthened his case to be recognised as the best player in the history of the game.
While the jury is still debating on whether he really deserves to be hailed as the greatest of all time, as some of his colleagues at Barca have labelled him, there is no doubting that Messi is, by quite a country-mile, the best of his generation. And he has made breaking records his part-time hobby this campaign.
He became only the third player to win the Ballon d'Or three times; he is now the joint top scorer in a single European Cup season with 14 goals; he became the first player to score five goals in a single game in the Champions League era; he is the youngest player to reach 150 La Liga goals; he has surpassed Cristiano Ronaldo's haul of 40 strikes in one league term; he became Barca's all-time top marksman in official games; and of course there is his tally of 68 competitive goals and counting which took him past Muller. All of those were achieved in the first five months of 2012.
But despite his numerous records and goals, there are still countless major milestones that he has yet to shatter, milestones that, many would argue, the 24-year-old has to reach before he can be considered the greatest footballer ever.
Below we list some of the all-time records Messi is yet to conquer.
BARCELONA & LA LIGA
|ALL-TIME RECORD||MESSI'S TOTAL
|Barca all-time appearance record: Xavi - 626||326|
|Barca all-time top scorer in La Liga: Cesar Rodriguez - 192||165|
|Barca all-time top scorer (including friendlies): Paulino Alcantara - 369||259
|Most goals scored in a single game for Barca: Joan Gamper - 9||5|
|Most Liga titles won for Barca: Xavi, Pep Guardiola, Josep Samitier - 6||5|
|La Liga all-time appearance record: Andoni Zubizarreta - 622||212|
|Most La Liga titles won: Francisco Gento - 12||5|
|All-time La Liga top scorer: Telmo Zarra - 252||165|
|Most goals scored in a single Liga game: Laszlo Kubala, Bata - 7||4|
|Fastest hat-trick in La Liga (in minutes): David Villa - 5||12|
Messi recently wiped out three records from this list: he has beaten Clemente Gracia's mark of 59 goals (including friendlies) in a single season as he currently stands on 70 (including friendlies), and he has eclipsed two of Cristiano Ronaldo's records from last season; six hat-tricks in one term (currently on seven) and 40 goals in one La Liga campaign (currently on 46).
Looking further ahead, the Argentine is bound to become Barcelona's all-time top scorer in the Spanish top flight as he needs just 28 strikes to usurp Cesar Rodriguez's tally of 192. And if he maintains his current scoring rate, he could overtake Paulino Alcantara in a season-and-a-half's time to become the club's all-time top marksman including unofficial games.
BARCELONA & CHAMPIONS LEAGUE/EUROPE
|ALL-TIME RECORD||MESSI'S TOTAL|
|Most Champions League trophies for Barca: Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Victor Valdes - 3||3|
|Most Champions League appearances: Raul - 144||68|
|Most European Cup/Champions League trophies: Francisco Gento - 6||3|
|All-time top scorer in Champions League: Raul - 71||51|
|All-time top scorer in European competition: Raul - 73||52|
|Most top-scorer awards in Champions League: Gerd Muller - 4||3|
|Most goals in a single European Cup season: Jose Altafini - 14||14|
|Most scoring final appearances in European Cup/Champions League: Alfredo Di Stefano - 5||2|
|Most goals in European Cup/Champions League finals: Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas - 7||2|
|Most hat-tricks in the Champions League: Filippo Inzaghi, Mario Gomez, Michael Owen - 3||3|
Any records in this category will have to be saved for next season and beyond. But barring a hat-trick from Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez in this year's Champions League final against Chelsea, Messi will tie Gerd Muller's total of four top-scorer awards in the competition.
One milestone that the Argentine did crack recently was Ruud van Nistelrooy's 12 goals in a single Champions League campaign. With 14 now, the Barca ace is levelled with Jose Altafini's mark, which was set during the European Cup era.
Messi continues to home in on Raul's legendary haul of of 71 goals in Europe's premier club competition. He is only 20 strikes behind, and at the rate he is going, he could comfortably smash that record within the next two campaigns - especially as the Schalke 04 veteran will be leaving Europe this summer.
ARGENTINA & INTERNATIONALS
|ALL-TIME RECORD||MESSI'S TOTAL|
|All-time appearance record for Argentina: Javier Zanetti - 145||67|
|All-time top scorer for Argentina: Gabriel Batistuta - 56||22|
|All-time appearance record in World Cup finals: Lothar Matthaus - 25||8|
|All-time World Cup top scorer: Ronaldo - 15||1|
|Most World Cup wins: Pele - 3||0|
|Most goals in a single World Cup tournament: Just Fontaine - 13||1|
|Most World Cup tournaments: Antonio Carbajal, Lothar Matthaus - 5||2|
|All-time Copa America top scorer: Norberto Mendez, Zizinho - 17
|Most Ballon d'Or wins: Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten - 3||3|
A lack of success on the international stage has always been Messi's Achilles Heel, and it's one of the main reasons why his fiercest critics, including Pele, have so far refused to recognise him as one of the greatest players of all time. On paper, he looks unlikely to equal or break any of the significant landmarks such as Ronaldo's status as the all-time World Cup top scorer, or beating Just Fontaine for most goals scored in a single finals tournament.
However, overtaking Gabriel Batistuta as his country's leading marksman is a distinct possibility, as he requires 35 more goals with the best part of a decade of international football ahead of him. As for individual honours, Messi could go into the history books in eight months' time if he becomes the first footballer to claim four Ballon d'Or crowns. With the way things are going so far in 2012, you wouldn't bet against him.
There is one record to end all records, the Holy Grail of landmarks which, if Messi is to achieve, could go some way to closing all arguments about whether or not he is the greatest ever: Pele's 1281-goal haul for club and country.
With only 270 official goals so far for club and country, Leo is still over 1000 strikes away from Pele's legendary mark. That's a long way to go and Barca will have to dig up the archives of Messi's goals in the junior teams, and he may have to keep a log of the number of times he will score when playing against his grandchildren in the backyard if he is to reach that tally!
Follow KS Leong on