Originally written on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 12/18/12
Messi
The little Argentinian recently broke Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a calendar year with his eighty sixth strike of 2012. As it turns out however, the record may not have been Muller’s in the first place. The Zambian FA recently launched a case to demonstrate that a player by the name of Godfrey Chitalu, scored 107 goals in 1972 thereby making him the real record holder. When asked whether the Zambian footballer should be made the record holder, several pundits agreed, that should the evidence show the claim to be true, Chitalu should absolutely be recognized officially. This means a player most people have never heard of would surpass one of the brightest superstars of the modern game. How is this even possible you may ask? Well to a large extent it comes down to pure arithmetic, but maybe that’s not all we should consider.  Looking at the numbers associated with this story there are several perspectives presented to us. First, if we view Chitalu’s record with the assumption that he played a similar number of games in a season to someone at a top club, including cup ties and the like, he would have 107 goals in about 40 games, giving him slightly more than 2.5 goals per game (which is of course a nearly insurmountable scoring rate). Even with that in mind though, what made Gerd Muller’s historic haul so impressive is that it came in an era when the game was shifting to a more physical style of play. The German forward encountered obstacles that were simply not as present in a less competitive league like Chitalu’s, which is why the worth of Muller’s campaign can not be easily compared to the significance of Chitalu’s. Muller was by all means a precursor, and his footballing style helped set the stage for what we see today. It is certainly tempting to ask why the Zambian FA didn’t make their case when Muller was the record holder, but in truth, with the evolution of the sport beyond Chitalu’s Zambian playing days, the African goal scorer simply cannot be directly compared to Muller or consequently Messi. For the record, the Brazilian Football Association has also claimed Pele scored 110 goals in 1961. So this is nothing new. FIFA, however, has refused to recognise any of these milestones (including Messi’s) because according to football’s world governing body, they just do not have the records to accurately compare players and make definitive judgments. A statistic is ultimately the reduction of a sports personality to a finite quantity, which is to say that sports, and in particular team sports, are in essence probability versus possibility. Numbers can only explain so much. There is, however, a few final figures to consider. Like Messi’s birthdate, which is 1987, making him a mere 25 years old. Or the fact that he netted yet another brace this past weekend to bring his total up to 90 thus far. How many more goals will this young star score? In the end, more than enough to solidify his place in history, with or without official ownership of a problematic record.
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