Fatherhood hasn't slowed record-breaking Messi

MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona forward Lionel Messi became a father for the first time last month at the age of 25 but parenthood doesn’t appear to have slowed the Argentine down and if anything has sharpened his appetite for goals.

Barcelona' Lionel Messi looks on during their Spanish First Division soccer match against Real Betis at Benito Villamarin Stadium in Seville December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

The World Player of the Year surpassed two long-standing records with a La Liga double at Real Betis on Sunday, beating Gerd Mueller’s 40-year-old mark of 85 for a calendar year and overtaking Cesar Rodriguez, who played in the 1940s and 50s, as Barca’s top scorer in the league on 192.

Messi needed 66 games to reach 86 and overhaul Mueller, who scored his goals in 60 matches for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972, while he has amassed his league tally for Barca in 229 outings since his debut in 2004, compared with 190 goals in 287 matches for Cesar.

He still has two La Liga games and a King’s Cup match to extend his 2012 total and if he keeps going at anything like his current rate his career scoring records are unlikely to be challenged for many, many years.

“I am going to try to score one or two more (before the end of the year) to make it more difficult for anyone who comes after me,” a typically modest Messi joked with reporters after the Betis game.

Nicknamed “the flea”, Messi’s exploits have put those of Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo firmly in the shade and he is the overwhelming favourite to secure a fourth consecutive World Player award - another record - when the winner is announced next month.

The debate over whether he is the best player of all time will rage on and perhaps will only be settled if Messi achieves what soccer greats Pele and Diego Maradona managed with Brazil and Argentina respectively - winning the World Cup.

The question is often posed as to whether Messi would be so prolific if he didn’t play alongside Barca team mates like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas and there is certainly nobody of that calibre in the current Argentina team.

However, his 12 goals for his country in nine appearances in 2012 equalled the national record held by Gabriel Batistuta and he has the ideal stage to cement his status as the game’s greatest when Brazil host the World Cup in 2014.

Messi’s importance to Barca’s chances of more silverware this season is beyond doubt.

Sunday’s double took his tally to 23 goals in 15 La Liga matches this season, almost half the club’s total of 50, and has helped them win all but one of their matches and put them six clear of Atletico Madrid on 43 points at the top of the table.

He netted 50 of Barca’s 114 La Liga goals last term - a Spanish record - and 31 of 95 during the 2010-11 campaign and has been top scorer in the Champions League the past four seasons, when Barca twice won the title.

“Ultimately, we will evaluate Leo’s records with the passing of time,” the club’s sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, who is probably thankful Messi wasn’t around when he was keeping goal for Barca and Spain, said in a TV interview on Sunday.

“He will always say that the goals are the result of the work of everyone, that it’s a team effort, but the scoring talent is his alone,” he added.

“For anyone who likes football watching Leo is a piece of great good fortune.”

Additional reporting by Mark Elkington. Editing by Patrick Johnston