Road to the Ballon d'Or: Lionel Messi

The 25-year-old enjoyed a miraculous year in front of goal for club and country, as he smashed Gerd Muller's record for goals in a single year that had stood for 40 years
By Charlie Scott

2012 was Lionel Messi's Annus Mirabilis (to date) as his remarkable goalscoring feat of 91 goals in a calendar year broke the previous milestone of 85 set by Gerd Muller back in 1972.

The Argentine's performances are beginning to place him in the indescribable category, with media outlets running out of superlatives to convey his exploits in words. Just when you think Messi's reached a barrier, he breaks through it.

Messi's 2012
91 Number of goals scored in 2012 in all competitions for club and country
233 Became Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer, overtaking Cesar Rodriguez, after scoring three times against Granada in March
5 Became the first player to score five times in a Champions League match as Barca beat Bayer Leverkusen 7-1
Like his Ballon d'Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo, he has had the 'can't do it for his country' criticism levelled at him, but in June last year Messi scored a hat-trick against Brazil. Whatever 'it' is, Messi is doing 'it' for Argentina now.

After starting the year with a bang, Messi scored twice away to Osasuna on January 4 as Barcelona ran out easy 4-0 winners, the 25-year-old racked up another 45 goals before the close of the 2011-12 season.

In March he scored five times in a single Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen, becoming the first player in history to do so in the competition, while he followed that up with hat-tricks against Granada, Malaga and Espanyol before the season's end. His final strike of the campaign was a sublime effort with his left foot in the Blaugrana's 4-0 Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao.

Yet surprisingly that was the only trophy Messi lifted in 2012.

While he excelled on an individual level, undoubtedly so, there was a distinct lack of silverware as the calendar year ended. Real Madrid pipped Barcelona to the Liga title, while they were knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League by the eventual winners Chelsea, as Messi et al. failed in their attempt to retain the European trophy.

    Broke Gerd Muller's calendar year record when he scored his 85th and 86th goals of 2012 against Real Betis in December  
Scored a fantastic hat-trick against Brazil in a summer friendly to seal a 4-3 victory for Argentina
Rescued Barcelona with a decisive triple to secure a vital 5-4 win over Deportivo in October

Any frustration the Argentine felt at failing to challenge for major honours in the 2011-12 season was soon put to the back of his mind though, as he scored five in three matches for Argentina, as they swept past the challenges of Ecuador, Brazil and Germany during the summer months.

With Tito Vilanova installed as the new coach of Barcelona following Pep Guardiola's departure, Messi settled quickly at the beginning of the new domestic campaign, finding the net six times before the end of August.

The Argentina international's goalscoring has been relentless since then, with his current tally for the current season at 35 goals in 26 appearances in all competitions.

In the October Clasico against Real Madrid he scored two marvellous goals to secure his team a draw at Camp Nou, and since then the Blaugrana have not dropped a point. Their record of 17 wins and just a single draw from 18 matches is the best ever start by any club to a Liga season, and means they sit 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, with their bitter rivals Real Madrid five points further back in third.

Messi has won the Ballon d'Or on the past three occasions, and when considering his recent goalscoring exploits it would be no surprise if he were to win it for a record fourth time.

"My record stood for 40 years - 85 goals in a year - and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I'm delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic"

- Gerd Muller

"Messi is a Martian, it is amazing what he has accomplished. There is no discussion, he is the best of the three Ballon d'Or finalists"

- Cesar Luis Menotti

"Messi will win that award five, six, seven times. He is incomparable. He plays in altogether another league"

- Johan Cruyff