Lionel Messi scored a mammoth 73 goals in the season 2011-2012. It was perhaps his best season then and by the looks of it, looks set to become the best season ever for Lionel Messi till the end of his career.

For most Barcelona people, that was it. Messi had proven himself as the greatest player to have ever played the game.

For Pele haters, that was it too. But does Messi’s 73 goal haul really puts him, undoubtedly, above the rest of the pile?

Lionel Messi defending the ball with vigor

Lionel Messi has been lucky enough to play for a side like Barcelona since the beginning

But aside from all the talk about Messi scoring so many goals because of:

  • Playing for, perhaps, the strongest side in club history

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    Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) shoots the ball during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs UD Las Palmas at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Playing not only with the best side collectively but also, playing with the best players in the world beside him at every position.
  • Those best attacking players (Like Xavi, Iniesta, Alves, Abidal, Sanchez, Villa, Fabregas) actually helping Messi out in every way possible to score more goals
  • Taking every free kick, every penalty and almost playing every match whether against 3rd tier teams in Copa Del Rey or Champions League meaningless group stages games.

We are not here to talk about that. What we do want to talk about is the quality of the goals Messi scored in 2011-2012.

To add further juice to this piece, let’s compare Messi’s ‘quality goals’ with Brazilian Ronaldo’s quality goals.

Ronaldo fending off a challenge

Ronaldo was almost unstoppable at Barcelona.

What? Where did Brazilian Ronaldo come from? He retired after 2006 World Cup, what could he possibly have to do Messi scoring 73 goals for Barcelona?

Well, a it turns out. Ronaldo played for Barcelona at the very peak of his career in 1996-1997. He also scored a colossal amount of goals which amounted to 47.

So it makes sense that we pit Messi against a true legend like Ronaldo was for Brazil.

Barcelona's Ronaldo, left, is challenged by Vincent Guerin of Paris St-Germain during their European Cup Winners Cup Final at the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam Wednesday May 14, 1997

Barcelona’s Ronaldo, left, is challenged by Vincent Guerin of Paris St-Germain during their European Cup Winners Cup Final at the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam Wednesday May 14, 1997

Though Ronaldo has the obvious disadvantages here. Namely:

  • He didn’t have what Messi had at Barcelona. Even excluding Messi, Barcelona had the ten best players in the world at each position. While when Ronaldo was at Barcelona in 1996-1997 he only had Figo. Figo was breathtaking on the wings that season but can we really compare a single Figo with the elites Barcelona furnished Messi with in 2011-2012?

    Ronaldo, left, jubilates after scoring the a goal for Barcelona in the beginning of the quarterfinals in the Cupwinner s Cup against AIK Stockholm at Rasunda Stadium

    Ronaldo, left, jubilates after scoring the a goal for Barcelona in the beginning of the quarterfinals in the Cupwinner s Cup against AIK Stockholm at Rasunda Stadium

  • He was only 19 years old when he played for Barcelona. Messi was a good 24 years old when he had his amazing season of 73 goals with Barcelona.
  • 1996-1997 was his first season for Barcelona which was a big disadvantage, since that means that Ronaldo had to score goals with more work. By 2011-2012 Messi had been at Barcelona for over ten years if we count the three years he played for Barcelona B and Barcelona C.
    Messi’s game was fully integrated into Barcelona’s when he scored his best tally of goals while Ronaldo had never played in La Liga before moving to Barcelona (and later to Real Madrid which is the reason why we chose Ronaldo to compare with Messi for this piece)
FC Barcelona's Ronaldo, right, is challenged by AIK Stockholm's Michael Brundin, during the Cupwinner's Cup quarter final match at RAsunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden Thursday March 20, 1997.

FC Barcelona’s Ronaldo, right, is challenged by AIK Stockholm’s Michael Brundin, during the Cupwinner’s Cup quarter final match at RAsunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden Thursday March 20, 1997.

What do you mean by ‘Quality goals’

For the purpose of this piece, I watched every goal Messi scored for Barcelona in the season 2011-2012 and then all Ronaldo goals for the season 1996-1997.

Then I subtracted goals from their grand total on the following criteria:

  • Penalties would not count. No matter in what match, against whom. Penalty is a terrible way to decide the outcome of a football match in anycase. When comparing all time greats, it is absolutely imperative that we only count goals that take effort and skill.
  • Open goals. Now to define open goals, is a bit difficult but here it goes. Goals scored when the keeper was helpless (like down or knocked out) do not count.
    When a player scores a goal that results from a low hard cross from either wings which takes out the keeper along with every other defender, does not count.
    By open goals, we mean, goals scored where the striker had nothing to do except tap the ball in, get a foot to the ball, strike a ball that was already going into the goal.
    Headed goals from crosses where the striker didn’t have to challenge a defender to get to the ball or beat a goalkeeper, count as open goals.
    All goals scored from behind the goal keeper count as open goals. A striker may choose to round the goalkeeper to score a goal, that would be a legitimate goal.

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    Las Palmas’ defender Pedro Bigas Rigo (L) vies with Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs UD Las Palmas at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)


    But if he receives the ball in a way that puts him behind the goalkeeper on his first touch then that counts as an open goal.

    To not count open goals is really important. Because we are not comparing to ordinary players here. We are comparing two of the greatest player of all times, so we need to mark them with a strict criteria.

    Messi running on the wings while playing for Barcelona

    Messi running on the wings while playing for Barcelona


    There is nothing wrong with scoring open goals or scoring goals from penalties. A striker is well within his rights if he steps up and takes these opportunities to get his team the win but when comparing greats from two different eras, it is important to compare them a bit more realistically.
    So only those goals count where Messi and Ronaldo actually showed something extraordinary to warrant their great status in football history.
    The type of skills that we would only relate with Messi or Ronaldo. To make that possible, open goals which could have been scored by someone as bad as Soldado or Peter crouch (for those who follow English Premier league) should be ignored.

With that said let’s have a look at the chart I got.

Result

Messi still has scored more quality goals than Ronaldo but the difference between them has decreased significantly. Messi, after cutting out tap-ins and penalties, looks a lot more like the other greats in terms of scoring goals.

To be equitable, Messi did score a lot of goals where the only detail he had to be concerned about was the direction of the incoming ball played to him.

All he had to do was to help the ball in the into the goal instead of actually picking the ball up in a semi-dangerous area and go past players to score a goal that might count as a hard goal. Or a ‘quality’ goal in our case.

Messi obviously scored those kinds as well but when compare with Ronaldo, the percentage was certainly much lower for Lionel Messi.

I guess Messi doesn’t look so impossible now or does he?

Conclusion

FC Barcelona's Brazilian star striker Ronaldo is cngratulated by teammates after scoring the only goal of their Spanish First Division match against Deportivo Saturday night May 24 1997

FC Barcelona’s Brazilian star striker Ronaldo is cngratulated by teammates after scoring the only goal of their Spanish First Division match against Deportivo Saturday night May 24 1997

Messi is a great player. But his greatness also came through the hard work of players such as Xavi, Iniesta and co.

Players like Ronaldo (Brazilian), Zidane, Figo, Pele, Maradona, Puskas, Eusebio (and many more) became great with lesser known teams.

Ronaldo’s contribution with Barcelona for that one single season should be ranked above Messi’s 2011-2012 season with Barcelona on the simple fact that Barcelona was not the powerhouse it was when Messi took over.

Some might even say that “It sometimes happens that one man has all the toil, and another all the profit.“.

HALA MADRID!!!