Exclusive: McMahon talks about Leo Messi's year

Liverpool legend Steve McMahon shares his thoughts on Lionel Messi’s achievement of breaking Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old goal-scoring record in 2012

By Steve McMahon

Lionel Messi – undoubtedly a name which is familiar to most people; football fans or not. A name which spells out everything spectacular, fantastic and incredible. At such a young age of 25 years-old, he has received multiple awards including Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year; indeed, his great achievements are no simple feat. This week, Steve McMahon took some time to share his insights on the great Lionel Messi.

Goal.com: Leo Messi has scored 91 goals in a calendar year; can you recap his year in a few words?

McMahon: Leo Messi is just incredible isn’t he? In each season since he broke into the scene, he’s consistently got better and better. He’s definitely a player at the peak of his game, and he doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.

He's moved from the wide to center-forward, how has he changed his game for the better?

Lionel Messi has got more freedom now spearheading the attack from the center – but he can still swap positions and also play at the false No. 9 role where he drops deep to collect the ball and brings defenders out of position to open up space for his teammates.

Surely this has to be a one-off year for him, he can't possibly get any better - or can he?

In all sincerity, I doubt he can outdo this achievement; I’m not saying that he’s not capable of doing so, but that this has got to be the most outstanding achievement ever! However, this fantastic young and robust player can pave his path toward greater heights. His ability to stay injury-free is also quite remarkable if you just recount all the matches Messi plays.

Do you think we're currently watching football's greatest ever player in the making?

Allow me to recap the 1958 World Cup – in particular, Pele, the youngest Brazilian player in the history of World Cup up till then. When the crowd witnessed just how amazing this young chap performed in the World Cup they started judging him based on his World Cup achievement. He was deemed the greatest then. Fast-forward to the present, and we’re seeing a similar performance by Messi in the limelight as a world class player.

At only 25 years old, he's broken numerous records for Barcelona, including top scorer in just about every competition. Just how valuable is he to Barcelona - will they even be the same club without him?

Absolutely not! Barcelona will never be the same without Messi and will struggle to keep aloft if they lose such an inspirational player like him. He’s untouchable; Barcelona would never even consider an offer – nor will Messi ever accept one. He’s signed to the club for life.

Messi's small stature and low center of gravity gives him the edge over opponents. How does he use these traits to his advantage?

He is nimble and elusive. Whenever the defenders charge at him like a raging bull, he does a ‘David Copperfield’ act and whisks away easily from them. He possesses the speed to drive the ball forward into the penalty box and deals a finishing blow to the back of the net. It is wonderful to watch him when he gets really close into the opponent’s territory.

Another reason why Messi gets so many goals a season is because he plays almost every game in the season. What is his trick to stay injury-free?

Lionel Messi is like a moving tackle-sensor – he is able to dodge almost every tackle performed against him and he doesn’t put himself in a compromising situation.

What is the difference between him and Cristiano Ronaldo? Who’s better, and why?

Let’s clearly distinguish between the two players this way – if Messi is a 10/10, Ronaldo is still a point behind. However, they are two completely different types of players, in that they have varied playing styles.

How much of an impact does his teammates, such as Xavi and Andre Iniesta, have on him getting so many goals?

We can’t leave Sergio Busquets out of the equation in Lionel Messi’s success as well. With Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, they become a really formidable force to overcome when they combine forces. Messi has his teammates to thank for his success. Without their unselfish assists and contributions, it would be relatively harder to earn his name in the headlines. Messi’s teammates break through a lot of defenses and provide him with the freedom he needs to excel.

What has Messi done over the years to get him to where he is now?

Messi was interviewed recently, being asked the exact same question. His answer to this question was not at all profound, but yet most people would find it hard to follow – he works, works and continues to work harder. To him, it’s all about plenty of practice and nothing else. There is no shortcut or fairy godfather to help him rise to where he is now. Needless to say, he’s very successful, but it does not give him the license to be complacent.


Former Liverpool and England International Steve McMahon is a football expert with ESPN’s The Verdict at 8pm.Catch him on ESPN STAR Sports’ comprehensive coverage of the Spanish La Liga.