Breaking Down Lionel Messi's Magical 91-Goal Year for Barcelona and Argentina

Adam Hirshfield@ahirshfieldFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team-mate Andres Iniesta (R) after Iniesta scored their team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, second leg match between FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC at Camp Nou on April 24, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

So maybe you’ve heard of this guy Lionel Messi. Not a bad footballer, that one.

And not a bad 2012 for the 25-year-old from Rosario, Argentina.

During the calendar year, Leo scored a record 91 goals combined in all competitions for Barcelona and the Argentina national side, shattering the mark of 85 tallied by Gerd Muller for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

Though he had already bested Muller’s mark (and many others) early in December, young Leo finished his 2012 this past Saturday with a brilliant goal in Barcelona’s 3-1 victory at Valladolid, a delightful buildup and finish best summed up by Ray Hudson’s “magisterial” call on beIN Sport.

Now, Messi’s club side may have had a relatively underwhelming end to the 2011-12 campaign, finishing a disappointing second to Real Madrid in La Liga and falling to Chelsea in the semifinals of the Champions League. But Messi neither underwhelmed nor disappointed.

But I didn't realize quite how ridiculous Messi's year was until I broke down the numbers.

To start, Messi's 91 goals upped Muller's record by about seven percent. That would be like Miguel Cabrera breaking Barry Bonds' one-season home-run record of 73—and not by a home run or two...but by five, for a new total of 78. That would be impressive.

Leo scored 91 total goals in 69 official games, 79 in 60 appearances for the Blaugrana and 12 in nine matches for the Albiceleste. 

The math is easy enough; that’s an average of 1.319 goals per game. While it’s not quite up to Muller’s average of 1.417 (85 goals in 60 matches) back in ’72, well, it ain’t half bad.

Messi’s tally of 91 goals in 69 matches, though, gets more impressive when you look at it under several other lights.

According to ESPN FC’s count of Messi’s playing time in 2012, that’s an average of one goal every 66 minutes he was on the pitch. If you consider that Racing Santander—I repeat, the entire team of Racing Santander—scored just 28 goals in 38 La Liga games in 2011-12 for an average of 0.737 goals a game and one goal every 122 minutes, you realize what a ridiculous number Messi’s total is. In fact, Messi’s total 2012 goal-scoring numbers best those of an astonishing 13 La Liga teams from the 2011-12 campaign:



Similarly, check out the breakdown of Messi’s goals for both Barcelona and Argentina in 2012: 

He scored 13 goals in 12 Champions League matches, five goals in eight Copa del Rey games, two goals in two Supercopa tilts and 59 goals in 38 league appearances—good for an astonishing 1.553 goals per game in La Liga. (Remember when Muller’s 1.417 seemed impressive?)

Messi didn’t exactly disappoint for Argentina either. While his 12 goals in nine matches seem almost pedestrian by comparison, he did manage to double his previous yearly best of six goals for his country back in 2007. Here's a goal-by-goal breakdown:

To delve even deeper, we’ll enlist the help of ESPN FC:

Messi scored 78 of his 91 goals inside the penalty area, including 14 penalties. He converted all 10 of his La Liga penalties and two of his three tries in Champions League play. The miss was a huge one, as it would have given Barcelona the lead in the Champions League semifinal against Chelsea, which survived Barca’s onslaught to reach the final and eventually win the title. 

In any given game, Messi was far more likely to score multiple goals than no goals at all. He scored exactly twice in 22 games, matching the number of games in which he was shut out. He added nine hat tricks, including a pair of four-goal games and a Champions League-record five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in March. 

Messi opened the scoring in 21 of the 47 games in which he scored. More than half (59 percent) of his goals were scored after halftime, and the quarter-hour he scored most in was between the 76th and 90th minutes. In fact, 40 of his 91 goals were scored in the last half-hour of games. 

Wondering how Leo's goals break down by month? Well, needless to say, he came in (and went out) like a lion in March:

His 73 goals in all competitions during the 2011-12 season set a new world record, as did his 50 La Liga tallies.

And what’s more incredible? If Messi remains healthy, he could well top both of those marks in 2012-13. His 26 goals in 17 La Liga games so far have him on pace for an otherworldly 58 by the end of the Spanish campaign. That would be a 16 percent increase over last season’s all-time record. Not bad.

The point is, these numbers are hard to fathom. But it's science, so unless you're the state of Kansas, you kind of have to believe them.

Yet while they may capture the quantity of goals, they don't help you grasp the immense quality Messi brings to the table.

Perhaps this video will help:

In short, 2012 has been a year for the ages for Lionel Messi and for soccer in general. The amazing thing is that at age 25, the fair-faced Argentine might just be getting started.