Football: Record hauls ease damaging year for Messi's legacy

Just last week Lionel Messi was made to recall the moment that could have changed the world's outlook on his 2014 and enhanced even further the legacy of a player regarded as the best of all-time by various commentators, players and coaches.

Captaining Argentina in their first World Cup final for 24 years, Messi had the sort of half-chance he has made look routine in scoring over 400 career goals to put his country in front two minutes into the second-half, but, on his trusted left foot, pulled his shot inches wide of Manuel Neuer's far post.

"If I had scored that goal in the final, they would have said I had a spectacular World Cup," Messi told Argentine newspaper Ole.

Instead, his election as the best player at the tournament was widely derided, many suggesting the fact the award was sponsored by one of his principal promoters Adidas was a convenient coincidence.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted his "surprise" to see a desolate Messi having to suffer the indignity of climbing to the presidential boxes twice to collect his individual award and then a losers medal in front of the eyes of the world.

For a lesser light the experience could have had a more lasting effect. Yet, less than five months, on Messi has put his legacy back up for debate by breaking two historic records to become the top goalscorer in both the history of La Liga and the Champions League at just 27 years of age.

His hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition of Sevilla on Saturday saw him pass Telmo Zarra's 59-year-old record mark to take his tally to 253 goals in 289 games.

Just four days later it was Real Madrid legend Raul who saw his Champions League record of 71 goals overhauled by the Argentine with another hat-trick, this time against APOEL Nicosia, to take him to 74 Champions League goals having played 51 fewer games than the Spaniard.

"He is a unique and unrepeatable player," gushed current Barca boss Luis Enrique.

However, the highest praise was lavished by the architect of much of what Messi has achieved at the Catalan club, Pep Guardiola, who turned a diminutive young winger into a goalscoring machine from the false nine role which has revolutionised the game the world over.

"He has broken a record that everyone thought was unbreakable, a figure which was unreachable - and one which has stood for 60 years," said the Bayern Munich boss.

"It will take another 600 years before his record is broken."

The irony is his Champions League record may not last long. Messi's claim to be the best ever is always counter-argued by the feats of Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese is just four goals behind Messi's mark and will start in an attempt to close the gap on 'la pulga' when the European champions travel to Basel this evening, despite having already sealed their place in the last 16.

Ronaldo is himself galloping through the list of all-time scorers in Spain at an alarming rate with his double against Eibar on Saturday moving him up to ninth thanks to an unbelievable strike rate of 197 in 176 La Liga games since swapping Manchester for Madrid five years ago.

The two are expected to accompany a German World Cup winner when the three candidates to win this year's Ballon d'Or are announced on Monday, having shared domination of the prize over the past six years.

Messi has arguably suffered his most disappointing year on a collective level in that stretch, failing to win a single trophy, losing two finals late on and missing out on a seventh La Liga title on the final day of the season.

Yet, the fact a down year for him has reaped 52 goals and 21 assists from 61 games for club and country explains how his brilliance is now seen as routine and will live long in the memory, even if he never gets his hands on the World Cup.