In case you were wondering, Goat stands for Greatest of All Time, at no point in his illustrious career has Lionel Messi ever been confused with a four-legged mammal that goes “bleat”. Messi is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time for several reasons, his trophy haul is frankly astonishing, but it is his skill with a soccer ball that makes him stand out above all the rest.
What makes a player stand out from the crowd though? Is it their ability to score goals or beat another player? Plenty of players over the years have stood out as great, often being the best player of their generation, or dominating a particular league or competition.
But being the best player in the league doesn’t mean you’re the Goat. So what makes Messi so special?
Without having seen Lionel Messi play soccer, either live or on TV, it can be hard to put into words just how truly exceptional a player he was in his prime. And yes, at the moment Messi is still playing soccer for Paris Saint Germain, but during his absolute peak, while playing for Barcelona, Messi really was the greatest player ever to kick a ball. Period.
Every generation has its stand-out players, those who from a young age are marked for apparent greatness. Some even achieve it, although most fall by the wayside as the weight of expectation slowly burns them out. Messi was different, once on the soccer field, he simply blossomed.
A tiny child that had to have growth hormone treatment to help him grow, Messi played for his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, scoring over 500 youth goals in the few years he was there. Eventually, bigger clubs began to sniff around the precocious youngster, but due to his medical needs, few clubs were willing to take a risk.
With family in Catalonia, the Messi family put feelers out to see if Barcelona would be interested in the player, and after seeing him play, club director Charly Rexach finally watched Messi play, and had to have him. Unfortunately, given his health issues, most teams in Argentina refused to sign him, and the directors at Barcelona were also extremely wary.
A move to Barcelona almost fell through when the club wavered at signing such a young player, especially one needing medical treatment. Rexach refused to give in though, and wrote out a contract on a napkin and promised the Messi family that no matter what, their son would play for Barcelona one day. Eventually, the move went ahead in 2000 and led to the rise of a world superstar.
After a rocky start in Spain, partly due to homesickness, and partly due to being unable to play in most youth competitions, Messi finally started playing in 2002 after being enrolled in the Royal Spanish Football Federation, and the goals soon flooded in. Still a diminutive player, Messi had a low center of gravity, excellent ball control, and a flair for the unexpected that simply destroyed youth teams.
After demolishing youth teams up and down the country, a 16-year-old Lionel Messi was finally called up to the senior Barcelona squad, with many eyebrows raised amongst his more senior teammates. That is until training began, and Messi promptly tore through his older, often internationally capped colleagues as if he was still playing youth soccer.
The Greatest Team Of All Time?
By 2005 Lionel Messi was a regular part of the first-team squad, and quickly became one of the key players for what would become arguably the best club team ever assembled. Alongside players such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Gerard Pique, Messi and Barcelona became virtually unstoppable.
And the entire team eventually gravitated toward giving Messi the ball, opposing players were terrified of him, and the Barcelona fans worshipped him. With every game, Messi seemed to grow in skill and stature, taking teams on almost single-handedly, literally becoming unplayable.
The better Messi became as he matured, the better Barcelona played, and the trophies began rolling in under manager Pep Guardiola. Barcelona, with Messi running rampant, won the treble in 2008-09 and went on to become the most dominant team of the era.
Many people at the time declared this Barcelona team the greatest club team of all time, and due to the high number of Spanish players on the team, the national squad also went on to dominate internationally.
Lionel Messi was an integral part of this tiki-taka soccer evolution, arguably the biggest reason, as his goalscoring exploits were something never seen before. The silky Argentine matured into the best player on the planet while at Barcelona, and it’s arguable that he became the greatest player of all time.
In the modern era, only Cristiano Ronaldo has stats anywhere near as good, but for pure talent and skill, Messi comes out on top.
- Champions League: 4
- La Liga: 10
- Spanish Cup: 7
- Ligue 1: 1
- Copa America: 1
- Ballon d’Or: 7
- La Liga – Player of the Year: 10
- Top Scorer Awards: 22
What differentiates a great player from a Goat? Winning does, and that’s why some of the standout players in world soccer can’t be considered the greatest of all time.
Lionel Messi, however, has a trophy cabinet the size of a soccer field. Personal accolades, club trophies, and international wins have given a great deal of weight to the argument that Messi really is the Goat.
On a personal level, Messi has won seven Ballon d’Or awards, the most by an individual ever, he has twice been the FIFA best player award winner, and three times winner of the UEFA best player in Europe award. Messi has also been the top scorer a staggering 22 times in his career, in competitions ranging from the Copa del Rey and La Liga to the FIFA World Cup.
Ten player of the year awards in La Liga and an Olympic gold medal also take pride of place in the Messi household. These achievements alone should help us understand just how good Messi is, no other player can come close, and every player, manager, and journalist that has ever been polled agrees on one thing, Messi is out of this world.
For Barcelona, Messi has ten La Liga titles, four Champions League medals, eight Spanish Super Cup wins, seven Spanish Cup wins, three UEFA Supercup winners medals, a Ligue 1 Champions medal with PSG, and a Copa America win with Argentina. While most players are lucky enough to win a medal or two, Messi has an honors list that needs an appendix.
The Stats Don’t Lie
- Most UEFA Champions League group stage goals: 74
- Most UEFA Champions League goals for a single club: 120
- Most UEFA club competition goals for a single club: 123
- Most Ballon d’Or awards: 7
- Most Liga goals: 474
- Most Liga goals in a single season: 50
- Most goals in a calendar year: 79
- Most Liga hat-tricks: 36
- Most Liga titles won by a foreign player: 10
- Most ESM Golden Shoes: 6
- Most club honors: 35
In the modern era, the only comparable player to Lionel Messi is Cristiano Ronaldo, both have made a career out of winning, both score goals for fun against any opposition, and both have had long and successful careers. And while stats aren’t everything, they do tell a story, and Messi’s story is an incredible one.
Lionel Messi is often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, both are serial winners, with goalscoring tallies that sound too fantastic to be real, and both have dozens of trophies, so why is Messi the Goat? In part it is the individual honors Messi has won, his contemporaries, pundits, fans, and governing bodies all agree that Messi is the most successful player ever.
But it’s not just that, Ronaldo is a machine of a player, built like a racehorse and completely focused on being the best. Messi on the other hand plays soccer like a child, he looks like he’s doing it for the sheer fun of it. Sure, Ronaldo can beat three players and then score a world-class goal, but Messi would prefer to beat 5 players, then go back and do it again before walking the ball into the net.
There have been some truly outstanding soccer players over the years, but with Lionel Messi, it genuinely feels like you’re watching a genius at work.
Most walks of life have some kind of pinnacle, be it the best artist, the greatest musician, whatever it may be, there can often be a standout virtuoso that’s just so far above the rest that it’s almost beyond a joke.
And that’s what Messi is, he’s just head and shoulders above the rest. Watching players fall over as they line up to be skipped around, hearing the gasp of a crowd rather than the roar of it.
The commentator of a game is rendered speechless as we witness something that can’t be done with a soccer ball. Trying to quantify genius is surprisingly difficult, especially with sports, music, or art, everything is an opinion, it’s just that in this case, everyone’s opinion says that Messi is a genius.
Only Lionel Messi can do that to us, and not only can he do that, but he’s also been able to do it almost weekly, for two decades. And that’s why he’s the Goat, the Greatest Of All Time, the number one player.