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Lionel Messi: A phenomenon, magician, the greatest



The last one remains a matter of opinion, but there can be no arguing that Lionel Messi is not one of the greatest footballers to play the game.

The forward, 36, won his eighth Ballon d’Or – three more than any other player – on Monday and continues to set records that may never be broken.

Messi guided Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in December before ending his 20-year career in European football with Barcelona to join Major League Soccer franchise Inter Miami in America in July.

As he continues to shine – for club and country – we look at some of the milestones and records Messi has set over the years.

From shy genius to bad-boy leader
It was no surprise when Messi was announced as the men’s Ballon d’Or winner, the award for the best footballer in the world for the 2022-23 season.

His inspirational role in helping Argentina win the World Cup for the first time since 1986 almost guaranteed he would extend his record of award wins to eight – despite the best efforts of prolific Manchester City striker Erling Haaland.

Cristiano Ronaldo, now plying his trade in Saudi Arabia, is Messi’s closest rival with five, but, aged 38 and not even nominated in the 30-man shortlist, it is hard to see the Portugal forward challenging Messi’s haul.

Such is Messi and Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or domination, the only other two previous winners still playing are Croatia’s Luka Modric and France’s Karim Benzema. With both well into their 30s, they do not stand a chance of getting near the record.

Haaland, Real Madrid and England midfielder Jude Bellingham, Real and Brazil forward Vinicius Jr and even Bayern Munich and England striker Harry Kane will fancy their chances of being in the mix in future, but it will be a long time before anyone gets near Messi.

Most goals in a La Liga season – 50
It is impossible to say when this impressive scoring feat will be broken, but history suggests it might be some time.

Messi’s 50 goals in 37 appearances for Barcelona in 2011-12 is not only a La Liga record, but it is also the most in a season by any player in one of Europe’s top five leagues since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93.

Since La Liga’s formation in 1929, only three players have even hit 40 goals. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo managed it twice and Luis Suarez did so seven years ago – the last time the mark was reached.

Most goals in all competitions in a season – 73
This tally seems insurmountable.

In that record-breaking 2011-12 season Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona and no-one has got close since.

Haaland broke all sorts of records in his debut Premier League campaign last season, but, despite seemingly scoring every week, he finished the season with 52 goals – 21 short of Messi’s phenomenal effort.

Even Everton great Dixie Dean is 10 short, hitting an amazing 63 goals in 1927-28 – an English top-flight record that has stood for 95 years.

Most Champions League goals for one club – 120
Messi looks like falling short of the record as Champions League top scorer. He is in second – 11 goals short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 140 – with both probably having played their last game in the competition.

But Messi’s 120 goals for Barcelona is the most a player has scored for one club in the competition.

Ronaldo’s 105 for Real Madrid is the next highest, with Karim Benzema’s 78 for Real a distant third.

With players remaining loyal to one club fairly rare in the modern game, it is difficult to see who could match Messi’s feat any time soon.

Most goals for Argentina – 106
Messi is Argentina’s record scorer by a country mile – and he is still going.

In an international career that started in 2005, he has scored 48 more goals than previous record holder Gabriel Batistuta and 63 more than third-placed Sergio Aguero.

With Messi still adding to his tally and his two closest rivals retired, it is going to be a long time – if ever – before anyone gets close to his Argentina record.

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Klopp hails Salah as Egyptian reaches 200 goals in English football




Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah received high praise from manager Juergen Klopp after reaching yet another milestone in Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Brentford that propelled them to second spot in the Premier League.

The 31-year-old Egyptian scored in each half to reach 200 goals in English soccer — 198 for Liverpool and two for Chelsea — and became the first player ever to score in each of Liverpool’s first six home games of the season.

“Crazy,” Klopp said marvelling about Salah, who Liverpool reportedly received a £150m (R3.4bn) bid for from Al-Ittihad in the last transfer window.

“Goal number 200 in England, right? Exceptional, played a super game today,” Klopp added. “Two players always around him, he kept the ball.

“We had so many good moments first half. [The] composure for the first goal is insane. No doubt in that area, you see it on the scoresheet. Special player.”

Liverpool have yet to lose at their Anfield fortress this season in all competitions, winning their sixth successive league game there on Sunday.

But while Klopp was thrilled with the performance he had strong words for the schedulers who have pencilled in their next game against leaders Manchester City as a 12.30pm kickoff at the Etihad on November 25, right after the international break.

“How can you put the Man City game on at 12.30pm?” he asked reporters after the game. “These people don’t know football.

“There could be a moment when these two teams have 30 international players, we pick up the South Americans on one plane to arrive here.”

Klopp was happy with his team’s bounce-back after their 3-2 loss at Toulouse in the Europa League group stage on Thursday.

“I’m very pleased to use that opportunity … to lose against Toulouse and then react in the way we did today.”

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From 6th to 18th: Wayne Rooney’s coaching ‘curse continues’ at Birmingham FC




Garry Cook, Birmingham City’s chief executive, opted against restraint when welcoming Wayne Rooney to St Andrew’s last month.

“This is a defining moment for the football club,” he said in a punchy opening appraisal of the Championship club’s new manager.

Perhaps time will make a prophet of Cook, but the grand vision he was selling to supporters in the wake of John Eustace’s sacking is yet to crystalise. Five games under Rooney have so far yielded four dispiriting losses and one underwhelming point. All glitter, no gold.

Birmingham were fifth on the night of Eustace’s final game, a 3-1 home win against local rivals West Bromwich Albion, and sixth on the day Rooney was named his successor. A month on and they are 18th in the second tier, seven points adrift of the play-offs and sinking like a stone.

The three-and-a-half-year contract given to Rooney indicates judgments will not be made with haste, but Saturday’s 3-1 away defeat against Sunderland again revealed an uncertain team struggling to grasp the methods of a new manager.

The Gaffer’s take on this afternoon’s game in Sunderland. 🗣️

— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) November 11, 2023

Rooney clung to the positives at the Stadium of Light, the scene of his first start for England against Turkey 20 years ago. He pointed to Birmingham’s best moments late in the first half and bemoaned their missed chances.

Yes, Birmingham might have scored three or four with greater conviction in front of goal, but it is little exaggeration to suggest Sunderland could have had twice as many. The abundant attacking threats of Tony Mowbray’s sixth-placed side exposed all the shortcomings of this evolving Birmingham one.

A work in progress would be the polite assessment.

Rooney has been tasked with transforming what has become a middling Championship club.

Co-owner and chairman Tom Wagner had no wish to see Eustace’s pragmatic reign unduly extended and instead went for the stardust of a man who is Manchester United’s record goalscorer and until this year held the same status for England, along with a stellar support staff that includes England cap centurion and three-time Premier League winner Ashley Cole and John O’Shea, who won even more caps with the Republic of Ireland and even more Premier Leagues (five).

They, Wagner felt, would change the dynamic at St Andrew’s, altering the club’s philosophy and style.

No easy task when arriving a quarter of the way into a season, especially when the new regime’s opening five games all came against teams among the Championship’s top 10.

Yet even with those allowances, it has been a start to test the bravado of Cook.

Only a draw at home against Ipswich Town, a result made less impressive by the concession of two late goals as a 2-0 lead went up in smoke, has snapped a pattern that has brought defeats to Middlesbrough, Hull City, Southampton and now Sunderland. In his five matches, Rooney’s Birmingham have conceded 11 goals and scored four.

“We can’t keep saying we’ve seen improvements, we have to start picking up results,” accepted Rooney, baseball cap pulled down low above his eyes. “I really believe we will. What I’m seeing from the players is really positive.”

Birmingham are a long way from the January transfer window, when the chance will come to recruit players to suit Rooney’s needs, and the short-term will need to bring better results. Their next two home games are against Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United, two of the current bottom three. Defeat in either of those fixtures will be much harder to explain away.

Rooney feels the timing of this international break has at least come as a blessing — a chance to work on the fitness of his players, who struggle to do all he asks of them across the full 90 minutes.

“The way they played before was completely different, sitting back a lot,” says the man who spent the previous 15 months managing DC United in MLS. “I’m asking players to be front-footed and to go and press high. It’s really intense. A different fitness level to what they’ve been used to. That’ll take a bit of time.”

Sunderland yesterday looked like a side that perhaps Wagner would like Birmingham to become.

The wide threats of Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts stretched play throughout, while Jobe Bellingham and Dan Neil were able to break the lines from midfield. Sunderland were often scruffy in a makeshift defence but Birmingham could have few complaints about their latest defeat.

Teenager Bellingham, sold by Birmingham’s new regime in the summer, opened the scoring from a corner that Rooney felt should have been a goal kick, then hit the same post his Ukrainian team-mate Nazariy Rusyn had earlier rattled. Birmingham responded well enough to equalise through Koji Miyoshi before half-time but a Dion Sanderson own goal and a third from Adil Aouchiche were enough to eventually see Sunderland win at a canter.

Rooney watched most of it from a default position in the technical area; feet planted and wide apart, arms folded.

“I enjoy it every day,” he insisted afterwards. “I enjoy working with the players. Of course, you get disappointment when you’re losing games of football but if you can’t enjoy coming in and doing what I’ve been tasked with doing for this club, then you’re never going to enjoy football.”

Birmingham’s new season was supposed to be different, but even with a name like Rooney in charge, it has begun to feel a lot like those that came before it.

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Harry Maguire’s triumph: From stripped captain to resilient starter at Man Utd




Harry Maguire feels vindicated in his decision to stay and fight for his spot at Manchester United, having forced his way back into Erik ten Hag’s team.

The 30-year-old’s future seemed set to lie away from Old Trafford after the blow of losing his starting place was compounded by being stripped of the captaincy over the summer, but a potential move to West Ham – or elsewhere – did not materialise.

And Maguire’s self-belief never wavered, with the under-fire defender repeatedly underlining his confidence about winning back his place at United.

That sounded far-fetched to many, but is precisely what he has managed, with the England international starting their last eight matches in all competitions.

Asked it feels like personal vindication for staying at United, Maguire said: “Of course.

“I played a few games last year, 16 or 17 starts, and I felt like I performed really well in the games I played in. I just didn’t play as many as I would have liked.

“On the other hand, Rapha (Varane) and Licha (Lisandro Martinez) were playing brilliantly and kept numerous clean sheets. I had to bide my time and be patient.

“I had two or three opportunities last season to get a run of games but I broke down with illness, I broke down with injuries twice, so I never got the rhythm and never got the run of games that I could prove myself to the manager.

“I have got that now, I am really enjoying my football and I really enjoy playing for this club.

“I was willing to stay and fight for my place and we have four, five top international centre-backs at this club and the competition for places is really high.”

Maguire has capitalised on injuries over the past six weeks and showed an impressive mentality, which is perhaps unsurprising for a player used to relentless mockery in recent years.

England boss Gareth Southgate said the treatment he faced was “ridiculous”, “a joke” and “beyond anything I’ve ever seen” after September’s win in Scotland came to a backdrop of Hampden Park abuse.

Maguire brushed it off as “banter” as he continued to block out criticism and abuse, saying his career to date has helped him retain a self-belief many would have seen dented.

“Working hard in training is the main thing and making sure you’re ready,” the United defender said. “But I started 16 or 17 games last year and felt like my form was there.

“There was a lot of talk about me because I wasn’t playing games, but that is the way it is.

“I was playing well for my country, went to the World Cup and played well and always thought my form was there.

“But I am up against some top, top-level centre-backs and last year they were playing amazing, so I didn’t get as many opportunities as I would have liked.

“This club demands competition for places and that is what we have in my position.”

Maguire’s focus now turns to England matters before United reunite and refocus on improvements after edging past Luton 1-0 on Saturday.

It was a fourth win in five Premier League matches but improvements in front of goal are needed.

Misfiring Marcus Rashford has scored just once this term, with Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho, Antony and Anthony Martial yet to open their Premier League accounts.

“That’s what everyone will be talking about,” Maguire said. “I see (the forwards) day in, day out in training and I play with internationals next week at England and the lads in training at United.

“The top players all have the ability to score goals. At the moment we are not scoring enough goals and we know that.

“But we aren’t keeping enough clean sheets as well – that’s how I look at it.

“I think in the past you’ve seen our attackers are top-quality players and can do it.

“Maybe a little bit of luck will turn and they’ll get the first one and the goals will follow. I am sure they will because they are all very good players.”

Hojlund’s struggles domestically are particularly surprising given nobody has scored more Champions League group-stage goals than the summer signing.

“Ras is a top player,” Maguire added. “I think you’ve seen his work ethic and what he brings to the team in recent weeks. He does a lot more than scoring goals.

“He scores goals in training, you’ve seen him score goals in the Champions League and I am sure it is a matter of time before he bangs a few in the Prem as well.”

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