Thu., December 13, 2012 5:30pm (EST)

With 88 Goals, Lionel Messi Celebrates A Record Year
By Lauren Frayer
Updated: 1 year ago

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (in dark blue) shoots on  Cordoba's goalkeeper Mikel Saizar (L) during the Spanish Copa del Rey football match in Cordoba on Wednesday. Messi scored two goals, giving him 88 for the year, in Barcelona's 2-0 victory.
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi (in dark blue) shoots on Cordoba's goalkeeper Mikel Saizar (L) during the Spanish Copa del Rey football match in Cordoba on Wednesday. Messi scored two goals, giving him 88 for the year, in Barcelona's 2-0 victory.
Stop anyone in the street in Europe, Latin America, Africa and even Asia, and chances are they'll know the name Lionel Messi and they'll probably know what he did this week. The soccer phenom scored his 88th goal of the year, which is widely thought to be a world record.

And the year's not over yet.

At Wednesday's game, Messi, 25, scored two goals for Barcelona during their game against Cordoba in the Copa Del Ray (King's Cup) giving Messi's team a 2-0 win over Cordoba with the announcer booming, "A new goal king!"

It was one more goal for a prolific goal scorer. But the art with which Messi plays soccer, sometimes brings grown men to tears.

"Lionel Messi rewrites the history book! And we were all there to witness it, to be privileged by this artisan!" exclaimed the announcer.

The British TV announcer Ray Hudson, who narrated one of Messi's goals last Sunday, couldn't avoid poetry.

"Twisting, turning, like an alligator with a twitch, beautiful give and go! He takes a million pictures in that crystal ball that's inside of his head!" said Hudson. "This golden footballer the most wonderful, stupendously magnificent player in the history of the game."

Now some Americans may be asking: Who?

'Not Even At His Peak'

Messi, who's from Argentina, doesn't have the playboy glamor that's made David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo famous across the Atlantic, says Mark Elkington, who covers Spanish soccer for Reuters.

"He's not what you'd call a classically good-looking guy," Elkington says. "He's quite small. He has this kind of humble, almost like a teenager, sort of shuffling along. He doesn't have all the trappings of the big superstar. And he plays football kind of like an excited teenager as well."

Messi was just 13 when he arrived to train with Barcelona. But he's loved even here in Madrid enemy territory, home to a rival team, Real Madrid.

In a downtown Madrid park, Jesus Lerma kicks around a ball with his friends. They're all diehard Real Madrid fans but can't bring themselves to say anything bad about Messi.

"I respect him a lot as a football player. He's, like, probably the best dribbler. I like him a lot his game, his kind of goals, his team playing," Lerma said.

With 88 goals, Messi has topped what was widely considered the four-decade-old record held by Germany's Gerd Mueller. There's now a bit of a dispute, with a Brazilian team now saying one of its players may have scored 89 goals in 1979.

Whatever the case, Messi has had a remarkable year and still has two more games to go.

And he's broken many other records too, Elkington says.

"He's been world player of the year for three years in a row, and he's favorite to win it again. Secondly, the Champion's League is the biggest club competition in the world, and he's been the top scorer in the Champion's League for the last four years in a row. He's Barcelona's all-time leading scorer. And you've got to remember, he's only 25. In theory, he's not even at his peak yet," said Elkington.

Rise of 'The Flea'

Messi's nickname is "La Pulga" or "The Flea." Which is what the opposing team often thinks of him a tiny 5-foot-7-inches, but an incessant nuisance, that they cannot stop.

"He seems to run into a crowd of players, and you think, 'Oh, well he's never going to get through there.' And he seems to come through on the other side with the ball. And you just laugh and you go, 'That's unbelievable, how he's done that!'" said Elkington.

Near the end of a tough game last year against Real Madrid, when players were getting sent off for rough tackles, Messi came out from nowhere, as he does, and scored two clean goals to win the game for Barcelona.

And as one commentator said at the time: "Just as it looked like petulance and bickering would win the day, up steps the 'little maestro' to show us all how 'the Beautiful Game' can still be played."


Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.