By KS Leong
Will he or won't he become the greatest footballer ever?
Lionel Messi's latest record-breaking feat on Tuesday when he became Barcelona's all-time top scorer in official matches has 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 in recent weeks.
He became only the third player to win the Ballon d'Or three times; he is now the record goalscorer in Champions League knockout games with 24 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, and of course, Tuesday's landmark that looks set to cement his legendary status at Barca, becoming the club's all-time top marksman. All these in the first three months of 2012.
But despite his prolificacy with 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 - 616
|Barca all-time top scorer in La Liga: Cesar Rodriguez - 192
|Barca all-time top scorer (including friendlies): Paulino Alcantara - 369||245
|Most goals scored in one season for Barca (including unofficial matches): Clemente Gracia - 59
|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
|La Liga all-time appearance record: Andoni Zubizarreta - 622||204|
|Most La Liga titles won: Francisco Gento - 12
|All-time La Liga top scorer: Telmo Zarra - 252
|Most goals in a single Liga season: Cristiano Ronaldo - 40
|Most goals scored in a single Liga game: Laszlo Kubala, Bata - 7
|Most hat-tricks in a single Liga season: Cristiano Ronaldo - 6||6|
Two more records could tumble in the coming weeks. Messi is now just four goals away from becoming Barca's top scorer (including unofficial matches) in a single season, and can beat Clemente Gracia's previous haul of 59. Leo currently has 54 competitive strikes and two in pre-season in the 2011-12 campaign. The Argentine is also one hat-trick away from eclipsing Cristiano Ronaldo's record of six trebles in a single league term, set in 2010-11. He is now just seven La Liga strikes away from smashing the Real Madrid star's total of 40 goals in a single league season.
Looking further ahead, Messi can join Pep Guardiola and Josep Samitier with six La Liga titles if the Blaugrana succeed in retaining their crown this year. It won't be a record as Xavi will move to seven wins.
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||64|
|Most European Cup/Champions League trophies: Francisco Gento - 6
|All-time top scorer in Champions League: Raul - 71||49|
|All-time top scorer in European competition: Raul - 73||50|
|Most top-scorer awards in Champions League: Gerd Muller - 4
|Most goals in a single CL season: Ruud van Nistelrooy - 12||12|
|Most goals in a single European Cup season: Jose Altafini - 14
|Most scoring final appearances in European Cup/Champions League: Alfredo Di Stefano - 5
|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|
Several milestones are in Messi's sights this season. Despite a tricky quarter-final showdown against AC Milan, Messi needs only one more strike to become the player with the most goals in a single Champions League season, and three more to beat the all-time record (including the European Cup) of 14. The Argentine is also on course to collect another top scorer award, which will tie him with Gerd Muller, while he requires just one more hat-trick to hold the sole record for the most trebles in the Champions League. Messi (55 goals) also needs 12 more strikes to equal the European all-time record of 67 in a season held by Muller (Bayern, 1972-73)
Messi continues to home in on Raul's legendary mark of 71 goals in Europe's premier club competition. He is only 22 strikes behind, and at the rate he is going, he could comfortably smash that record within the next two campaigns.
ARGENTINA & INTERNATIONALS
|ALL-TIME RECORD||MESSI'S TOTAL|
|All-time appearance record for Argentina: Javier Zanetti - 145
|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
|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 10 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 that, 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 256 official goals so far, 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