Messi’s Magical Season for 2011/2012

La Pulga ~ The Messi-ah ~ D10S ~ Magisterial ~ Sempre Messi.

Last season, he was “PlayStation Messi”.  This past season, the media ran out of earth-bound superlatives for Barça’s #10, so then came descriptive phrases such as “from another planet” and “out of this world”, for there is nowhere else to go except to infinity and beyond.

When references to other worlds appear, you know that the person being talked about is in an elite echelon – towering above his peers – mere words unable to describe what he does, or how he makes us feel whenever he pulls off another Messi-esque move.

“Gaaaaaargh!!!!!!!!!! Nothing less than the equivalent of a foot-balling bird of paradise is this man, that defies the description, ‘man’. Genius of geniuses! He’s like Doctor Spock! He’s out of his Vulcan mind! Absolutely out of this world! Lionel! Look at the tuck away, look at the pace, he folds(?) this field up in warp speed, Doctor Spock, in warp speed. Maaagesterial Argentina! Magesteerial Leoo! Running like he’s got a food mixer down his shorts, and it set the beat.” ~ Ray Hudson, GolTV, Málaga vs. Barça, 22nd January, 2012.

If you haven’t yet heard Ray-Ray say that, do yourself a favour and listen here!

We watch the replays, shake our heads and still think that our eyes have fooled us, because there’s no way a human should be that co-ordinated to move body and mind together, to perform such outrageous manoeuvres as quickly as Messi can.

Therein lies his super-power strength – that ability to disengage his mind, go into the zone, and let his feet do the thinking. Only once the ball is in the net does the rest of him catch up. I’ve seen times when he almost shakes himself back to the present, as if not really knowing what he just did; so proud and pleased, as if he’s saying, “Did you see what just happened? Wow – we’re good!  Let’s celebrate with a team hug.”

“Although he may not be human, it’s good that Messi still thinks he is. Messi plays another sport.” ~ Javier Mascherano, Barça TV interview, 5th May 2012, after the 5-0 Espanyol (farewell to Pep) match at Camp Nou.

That zen-like zone, in which athletes revel and seemingly perform above human capability, can’t be trained or taught. There isn’t a lesson plan for it. You either have it or you don’t. It either switches on or it doesn’t.

When it doesn’t engage, super-human athletes become almost ordinary. A bad day at the office. They over-think; cannot instinctively find the right movements; find themselves out of position; out of synchronicity and everything seems to go wrong. We’ve seen glimpses of that in Messi this season during games, with his ambling around the pitch, the missed hook-ups with other team-mates, as well as his runs forward which turn to nothing as a defender deprives him of the ball, and he looks up in wide-eyed disbelief that it’s just not working right now.

He can’t be brilliant all the time. This is a team sport, after all.

Messi’s presence on the pitch is enough to keep 2 or 3 defenders occupied for almost the entire 90+ minutes, keeping him covered in case he does get the ball and goes into warp speed. That’s the immense advantage of having him in the match, even when it’s not gelling for him. Tactically, for a coach and team, having 2-3 defenders covering 1 player means that it gives space on the pitch in which the other strikers, (and attacking midfielders), can find their way to the net.

Other strikers.

This season, there were no “other strikers” for whatever reasons. Alexis’ and Villa’s injury report cards have been filled out on both sides. Pedro was also injured and didn’t recover form until the last few weeks of the season.

Lack of form, and injuries, also affected supporting mid-field players Cesc, Iniesta and Xavi. Afellay didn’t get to prove his worth because of a hamstring injury followed almost immediately by a more serious ACL injury. Thiago blew hot and cold. Keita and Busquets were solid, but hardly game-makers in the genre of Xavi and Iniesta.

Guardiola resorted to bringing in B-teamers Cuenca and Tello. Cuenca has perhaps adapted the best in supporting Messi and Alexis, while Tello has yet to find that element of his game. He’s so used to being the end-guy, scoring the goals, that he’ll shoot even though the better opportunity lies with an inside and better-positioned team-mate. He’s not a quick thinker in that regard.

The mid-field, so used to supporting their forwards, found themselves doing double duty in attack and in defence (lots more than usual) when the Barça back-line was often riddled with injury. The 3-man back-line formation also caused issues in some games when under pressure from their opponents, and forced Busquets to go back in support, leaving the midfield without a pivot. This often meant that the midfielders played deeper behind half-way, and the midfield link-up with the forwards wasn’t further up the pitch for the quick plays and combinations closer to the goal.

The back-line was not without its own issues. Abidal began to show signs of poor form and we were all devastated to find out why. Fontàs went out with an long-term ACL injury; Piqué frequently drew blood or was benched; Alves drew cards; Puyol’s body defied his mind; Adriano pulled muscles at whim and Maxwell left for Paris Saint-Germain.  Mascherano, (a mid-fielder until he arrived at the club), was still feeling his way into the CB role and committed some horrendous boo-boos (professional technical term) during his apprenticeship.

Despite all these set-backs, think about how close this team came to pulling off yet another hugely successful season.

4 trophies won, out of the 6 for which they have competed.

Granted they lost the big ones, but the crunch time for both of these trophies came at the end of a long season when the team simply ran out of gas. Before the end of the Liga season, Barça had played 5 more games than Real Madrid (UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup x2, CdR Semifinals x2), plus endured all the stresses that travel puts on the body and mind – especially the trip to Japan.

“We’re running out of adjectives to describe him. I don’t know what to say anymore about Messi. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to play with him. We have the best player in the world playing alongside us. He bests himself in every game. He is a magnificent person and player.” ~ Pedro on Barça TV’s El Marcador programme, 7th March 2012, after the 7-1 win against Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou.

The past season was filled with a multitude of mishaps and misadventures, and bang in center-stage was Messi – the only constant presence this season in the Barça attack, while his team-mates ebbed and flowed around him. It wasn’t really the ideal environment in which to create a formidable attack partnership, nor even field a whole team of players who instinctively understood what to do, and when. With the lack of options, Messi was relied upon to do it all up front. He became the go-to guy for the attacks on goal, because there wasn’t really anyone else to do it.

Messidependencia? You bet.

However, because he is Messi, it wasn’t an ordinary event. He just didn’t score goals. This season, he has set new records after breaking virtually every existing scoring record within his reach at Club, European and World levels. He has scored in singles, braces, hat-tricks, pokers and even a five goal personal manita. He has won several individual trophies to go with those won with his team-mates.

With his 73 goals and 28 assists, he has directly contributed to 101 of the 190 official  goals scored by the team during the 2011/12 temporada.

Let’s take a look at the list of Messi’s records and honours that he’s achieved and received over the past season.

Ready?  Take a deep breath, because you’re going to need it.

Individual Records

Club (FC Barcelona)

~ The first player to score and assist in every trophy competition (6 in total) in one season.
~ The 2nd club player (after Pedro) to score in 6 official competitions in one season.
~ Leading Barça scorer in Spanish Supacopa with 8 goals.
~ Scored 35 La Liga home goals to set new club and Liga records.
~ With 14 La Liga hat-tricks, sets a new record surpassing César’s 13.
~ 2nd Barcelona player to win Pichichi twice. (Shares record with Quini).
~ Converted 10 penalties in La Liga to equal record set by Ronald Koeman (1989-1990).
~ Scored in 10 consecutive Liga games (in which he played) to equal Martin (1942/43) and Ronaldo (1996/97).
~ Equalled record set by Eto’o (2007-08) to score in 7 consecutive La Liga Away games.
~ At age 24, becomes La Liga’s youngest player to score 150 goals to set club and Liga records.
~ With 214 games, beats Cocu’s record (205 games) to become foreign player with most La Liga games for the club.
~ First player to score 8 hat-tricks in a single La Liga season.
~ 15th October 2011:  Surpasses Kubala’s 2nd place club record of 194 goals.  (With a brace vs. Racing Santander at Camp Nou.)
~ 29th October 2011:  Scores the club’s fastest La Liga hat-trick in 17 minutes. (vs. Mallorca at Camp Nou.)
~  19th February 2012:  Becomes the club’s youngest player to play 200 La Liga games.  (With 4 goals vs. Valencia at Camp Nou.)
~ 20th March 2012:  Becomes the club’s top competition scorer when he surpasses César Rodríguez Álvarez (232).  (vs. Granada at Camp Nou.)
~ 25th May 2012:  Holds the club’s goal scoring record (in competitions only) of 253 goals.
~ 25th May 2012:  Holds the club record for most goals scored in a single season – 73.

Spanish La Liga and Copa del Rey

~ Leading scorer in Spanish Supacopa competition with 8 goals. (Previously held by Raúl with 7 goals.)
~ 10th April 2012:  Breaks Isidro Lángara Galarraga’s 78 year old record (60 goals during 1933–34), to become Spain’s top scorer in one season. (vs. Getafe at Camp Nou.)
~ Marca’s Pichichi Winner with 50 Liga goals.
~ Top La Liga Goal Scorer (50) in 2011/2012 season.
~ First player to score 50 La Liga goals in a single season, breaking Ronaldo’s 2010/2011 record of 40 goals.
~ Set a new record for La Liga goals scored in home games – 35 in the season.
~ Second player (after Hugo Sánchez) to score 35+ goals in all competitions for 4 consecutive seasons.
~ At age 24, becomes La Liga’s youngest player to score 150 goals.
~ First player to score 8 hat-tricks in a single season.
~ 25th May 2012:  Finishes season with 53 goals scored in La Liga (50) and Copa del Rey (3).

UEFA Champions League

~ All-time Top CL Scorer with 14 goals.  (He shares the highest score with AC Milan’s José Altafini who scored 14 in 1962/63).
~ Top CL scorer for the past 4 years, and has set a new record for consecutive seasons at the top.  (He previously shared the record of 3 consecutive years with Gerd Müller [1973, 74, 75] and Jean-Perre Papin [1990, 91, 92].)
~ 7th March 2012:  Becomes the first player in CL to score 5 goals in one match.  (vs. Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou.)
~ The youngest player to pass the 50 goal mark in CL history.
~ Top scorer in the CL knockout stage with 26 goals.  (Previous record of 18 goals was jointly held by Raúl and Shevchenko.)
~ Scores his 2nd and 3rd CL hat-tricks to share record (with Filippo Inzaghi and Michael Owen) for highest total of CL hat-tricks.
~ 4th player (follows Jari Litmanen, Hernán Crespo and Thierry Henry) to score in 7 Away games in a row.

Europe

Awarded during this season, for last season’s performance
~ 25th August 2011:  2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe.

This Season
~ 2nd May 2012:  Breaks Gerd Müller’s 39 year old record (67 goals set in 1972/73) to become Europe’s leading goal-scorer in one season. (A hat-trick vs. Málaga at Camp Nou.)
~ 5th May 2012: His 2nd match goal surpasses Dudu Georgescu’s 35 year record (47 league goals for Dinamo Bucharest in the 1976/77 Romanian champs), to become the European Top League scorer in one season, with a total of 50 goals. (4 goals scored vs. Espanyol at Camp Nou.)
~ 25th May 2012:  Scores his 73rd goal for a new European record in one season. (Copa del Rey Final vs. Athletic Bilbao.)
~ European Golden Shoe with 50 goals. (His 2nd Golden Shoe Trophy.)
~ First player to achieve 100 points in the European Golden Shoe. (50 goals x Factor 2 for top leagues weighting.)

FIFA Club World Cup

~ December 2011:  Man of the Match in Final. (vs. Santos FC.)
~ December 2011:  Golden Ball Trophy. (2 goals scored.)

World Stage

Awarded during this season, for last season’s performance
~ 9th January 2012:  2011 FIFA Ballon D’Or for World Player of the Year.

This Season
~ With his 3rd consecutive Ballon D’Or, he became one of only 2 players to have won it 3 times in a row.  (The other player is Michel Platini, and he won in the era when only European players were eligible for the award.)
~ 4th player to win 3 Ballons D’Or. (after Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.)
~ 5th May 2012:  A new World record of 72 goals in a 1st division season by breaking Archie Stark’s (Bethlehem Steel Club) 85 year old tally of 70 goals which Stark set in the American Soccer League in the 1924/25 season.  (A poker bag vs. Espanyol at Camp Nou.)
~ 25th May 2012:  A new World Record of 73 goals in a first division season. (1 goal scored vs. Athletic Bilbao in Copa del Rey Final.)

Personal Bests and Distinctions (Other than those mentioned above)

~ 1st November 2011:  Scored his 200th  goal for FC Barcelona. (A hat-trick vs. Viktoria Plze? in Champions League.)
~  26th December 2011:  French publication, L’Équipe, named Messi “2011 Champion of Champions”, beating tennis #1 Novak Djokovic and Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel.  Messi became only the 5th football player to win the award, and the first to win it out of a World Cup Year.
~ Appeared in Time Magazine’s 100 Top Influential People List.
~ Time Magazine also named Messi as one of the 32 candidates for this year’s “Person of the Year Award”.
~ Played more matches (60 in total) than in any of his previous seasons.
~ A new personal record of 28 assists in one season. (This would have been 38 if awarded according to the Wikipedia definition of an assist.)
~ Scored in 6 consecutive home games (twice over the season) to better his previous record of 5 games in a row.
~ 5th May 2012:  Scores his 250th goal for FC Barcelona.  (A poker bag vs. Espanyol at Camp Nou.)

Team Honours

~ 17th August 2011:  Spanish Supacopa Trophy. (vs. Real Madrid.)
~ 26th August 2011:  UEFA Super Cup Trophy. (vs. FC Porto.)
~ 18th December 2011:  FIFA Club World Cup Trophy. (vs. Santos FC.)
~ 25th May 2012:  Copa del Rey Trophy. (vs. Athletic Bilbao.)
~ Semi-final Stage of UEFA Champions League.
~ 2nd Place in Spanish La Liga.

I’ve prepared some PDF documents of Messi’s achievements. You can download them from these links:

Messi_2011_2012_Statistics_Summary – a breakdown of Minutes and Games played, Goals and Assists by Competition, as well as analysing Home and Away Goals and Assists and how he scored them (singles, braces, hat-tricks etc).

Messi_2011_2012_GameByGameAnalysis – a Game-by-Game breakdown of Messi’s Goals, Assists (and to whom), and Minutes Played per Game.

Messi_Achievements_2011_2012 – A List of Messi’s Achievements and Records for the 2011-2012 Season.

Will this be enough for Messi to have won his 4th Ballon D’Or?  If he doesn’t, then there’s something very wrong with the voting system, or the quality and education of the voters.

Detractors opine that his goals were “meaningless”. ¿Por qué?  You cannot be serious.

Look at all those new records which now have the name “Lionel Messi” beside them. Digest how many long-standing records have been shattered by this 24 year old, in what has been deemed a less than successful year for an FC Barcelona team which did not succeed in winning La Liga for the 4th time in a row, or Champions League for the 2nd consecutive year.

How preposterous and ridiculous, is it, to expect that this team would keep winning and that they (Messi included) have failed because of a couple of lost trophies – in just one season? Now think of the Arsenal fans who have never given up on their team which last won a trophy 7 seasons ago. Haven’t we been blessed, by comparison?

When the world’s football managers and captains place their votes for the World’s Best Player, I trust that they will do their homework and look for a list of achievements that each player has attained over the season.

The Ballon D’Or is an individual award for the player who has played the best throughout the past season, and Messi’s record-breaking statistics have been out of this world.

With a healthy team around him, those efforts could perhaps be reflected in a couple more pieces of silverware which, for some reason, would make his accomplishments so much more significant and legitimate in the eyes of some people: people who cannot fathom how much this guy has achieved over the past 9 months, and how Messi responded to his club’s call when he was most needed.

Should Messi not capture his 4th Ballon D’Or, I’d suggest that he goes on to new challenges for the next season, for there are other records to break.

For starters, he hasn’t yet won the Zamora Trophy.