When Lionel Messi scored his 86th goal of the season last Sunday it was widely believed that the mercurial Argentine had set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year, surpassing that of German ace Gerd Müller. No sooner had Messi began to receive the plaudits than speculation of even greater goal scoring feats started to emerge.
The Zambian FA has claimed that Kabwe Warriors striker Godfrey Chitalu had scored an incredible 107 goals in 1972. This was immediately followed by claims that Brazilian star Zico scored 89 goals in 1979 while playing for Flamengo. Zico has officially been credited with 81 goals for his club side, seven on international duty for Brazil and one in a friendly between Argentina and a Rest of the World XI. When asked to clarify the situation, FIFA only succeeded in muddying the waters by stating that they do not keep domestic records and therefore ?It?s not an official FIFA record?.
This confusion has sadly diverted the attention away from Messi?s incredible achievement in passing Müller?s 40-year-old record. Some have already argued that, with the greatest respect to the late Godfrey Chitalu, it is impossible to compare his goal scoring record with one set in the top leagues of the modern game. Chitalu played in at least four domestic competitions as well as appearing for the Zambian national side. He later became the national coach of Zambia but was killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Barcelona?s Lionel Messi is already a three-time winner of the Ballon d’Or and had been closing in on Müller?s record in recent weeks. Nobody suspected that the record may actually be disputed but it now seems that FIFA are distancing themselves from the debate, passing the buck to fans or statisticians. Fifa spokesman Alex Stone said: “We don’t have a database which details every football game played in every country from around the world since day one of their formation. It’s certainly nothing to do with bias – if we can confirm records from our tournaments we like doing that. It’s a record where someone in the media obviously collected statistics from somewhere and noticed Messi was about to pass that record.”
Whilst many will feel that Messi?s achievement cannot be compared to that of Chitalu, it will be interesting to see what happens if that claim behind Zico?s scoring record is ratified. Messi has already vowed to score as many as he can before the year is out so will be gunning for at least 90 goals. Barcelona have just two games remaining this year so it seems highly likely that he will pass Zico?s figure but Chitalu?s tally is well beyond reach.
Messi scored twice against Real Betis to move ahead of Muller?s record. Two further goals by the Barcelona number 10 in his side’s victory over Córdoba in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 clash took his tally to 88. His first goal was a converted cross from David Villa in the eleventh minute and he struck again in the 74th minute after being sent clear on goal.
Whilst not wishing to detract from Messi?s achievement, a spokesperson for the Zambian FA expressed the view that it is more about recognising the achievement of Chitalu. They said: “Even as the world has been looking at Lionel Messi’s record, breaking Gerd Müller’s, the debate and discussion back here has been why Godfrey’s goals are not being recognised. The record holder in terms of goals per calendar year is actually an African. It’s actually Godfrey Chitalu.”