By Keir Radnedge
Lionel Messi rocketed further into the stratosphere of football history when he finished the league season beyond the 70-goal mark, a figure never previously managed by anyone in top-class European football.
Following closely behind, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo netted one goal at home to Mallorca on Sunday in the final game of the term to reach 60 in all competitions this campaign. That made it the first time two players have hit that remarkable target in the same season since 1927-28.
Until now British legends Dixie Dean and Jimmy McGrory had remained unique in having both managed at least 60 in the same season, albeit in different leagues. Dean scored 63 goals for title-winning Everton in England while McGrory rattled home his 62 for Celtic in Scotland.
England centre-forward Dean – he was christened William Ralph and hated the nickname ‘Dixie’ – scored 60 goals in the old First Division and three in the FA Cup. Remarkably he did so despite having suffered skull and jaw fractures in a motorcycle accident in the summer of 1926.
Hindsight suggests Dean benefited significantly from a change in the offside law in 1925. This meant an attacking player needed ‘only’ two players, rather than the previous three, between himself and goal when the ball was played forward.
A goal glut followed across the Football League. Some 6,373 goals were scored in 1,848 games in 1925–26, an increase of 36 per cent on the 4,700 in 1,848 games in 1924–25.
Dean scored 383 goals in 433 games for Everton in a top-class career aggregate of 407, including 18 goals in 16 games for England, before retiring in 1940. He died in 1980 after suffering a heart attack while watching Everton play Liverpool. A statue of him greets visitors to Goodison Park, a reminder of the glories of yesteryear.
The offside change prompted not only Dean’s record achievement but a tactical rethink by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman and his Scottish inside forward Charlie Buchan. They pulled the old attacking centre-half back out of midfield and created the ‘third-back game’ with which Arsenal commanded English football in the 1930s.
The so-called WM formation held sway until Brazil introduced 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 in winning the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.
North of the border McGrory also capitalised on the change in the offside law. In that very same 1927-28 season he totalled 62 goals for the Hoops, made up of 47 in the Scottish league, six in the SFA Cup and nine in the League Cup.
Despite being only 5ft 6in, McGrory was the Scottish league's top goalscorer three times between 1927 and 1936 and totalled 550 senior goals, which still stands as a British record.
Some 18 years passed before another European joined Dean and McGrory in the “60 Club”. The third member of this elite was a Hungarian, Ferenc Deak, who rifled 66 goals in 1945-46 for the minor Budapest club, Szentlorinci.
Later came Dutchman Henk Groot, who played for Ajax between 1959 and 1963. In 1960-61 Groot scored a then record 41 goals in the Dutch league – still then largely part-time – and added a further 24 goals in the domestic cup and in the summer Inter-Toto Cup (not included in the table above) which was organised to serve the football pools companies of central Europe.
Twelve more years and Gerd Muller ‘signed in’. No European player has run up more club goals in a season than the man labelled “my scorer of little goals” by West Germany manager Helmut Schon.
Muller netted 398 times in 453 games over 15 years for Bayern, 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany – including the winner in the 1974 World Cup final – and was top scorer seven times in the Bundesliga. His most prolific season was 1972-73 when he scored 36 in the league, seven in the German Cup, 12 in the league cup and 12 in international club competitions.
That added up to the European club record of 67 which, along with the individual marks of Dean and McGrory, Messi has successfully erased in 2011-12.