• ESPN Sports Personality of the Year - No. 6

Lionel Messi: Goal machine

ESPN staff
December 14, 2012
Lionel Messi has finished as the Champions League's top scorer in each of the last four seasons © PA Photos

The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...

By Lionel Messi's ridiculously high standards, 2012 may not have even been his best year. No league title, no Champions League… in fact, just one major trophy in total. Compare that to the five pieces of silverware he won last year.

But the magic has not left the pint-sized Argentine - far from it. The fact that he has finished 2012 with room to spare in the trophy cabinet is more a reflection of the failure of his team-mates, rather than a sign of decline in the world's greatest footballer.

Indeed, Messi's personal contribution has been unprecedented. Not only has he never scored so many goals… nobody in the history of top-flight football has done so.

Gerd Muller's all-time record of 85 goals in a calendar year looked utterly untouchable less than a decade ago. But the arrival of Messi - and Cristiano Ronaldo - put it under threat, and like the majority of their careers Messi proved just that step ahead of the Portuguese.

Barcelona's magician, at the time of writing, sits on the proud record of 88 goals in 2012. He has two more games to reach a magnificent 90.

So how did the major trophies elude Messi in such a season? How did he end up frustrated in a year that saw him become the first man to score five goals in a Champions League game? How did all his efforts come to (almost) nothing as he passed Cesar Rodriguez as Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer?

Lionel Messi broke Gerd Muller's record for goals in a calendar year © PA Photos

The failure to defend the Champions League was actually - in part - Messi's fault. A crucial missed penalty in the semi-final allowed Chelsea to snatch a miraculous victory with ten men, but that was the only finger that can be pointed at the left-footed wonder.

Barcelona somehow contrived to hand Real Madrid the title despite Messi breaking the all-time record for goals scored in a single season in Europe. A tally of 73 in all competitions took him past Muller's 67, and he also supplied 29 assists.

The Supercopa de Espana came and went in August, with Madrid winning on away goals despite Messi scoring in both legs. It was the same old story, Messi and Co magic at one end, but too often let down by a threadbare defence at the other.

His only cause for celebration in 2012 was in the Copa del Rey, when Messi scored to help Barca make up for their 2011 loss in the final of the same competition. It seemed scant consolation, but at least it was a fitting goodbye present to Pep Guardiola, under whom Messi won 14 trophies.

In the new season Messi already has 46 goals in all competitions for club and country, with Barcelona looking set to regain the title from Madrid.

He recently said of himself: "I love to train, play and win. I even like to win in training games. I have been that way since I was a kid and I do not think I will change."

Imagine how many he scores in training…

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