MADRID (AFP) – Spanish and Argentinian media hailed Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on Wednesday as “a living legend” and “eternal” after the striker became the club’s highest goalscorer of all time.
“Messi rewrites history,” daily newspaper La Vanguardia wrote on its front page below a picture of a smiling Messi celebrating one of his three goals during Barcelona’s 5-3 win over Granada Tuesday in a Spanish league match.
“Historical!” said Barcelona-based sports daily Mundo Deportivo on its front page above a photo of the 24-year-old with both arms raised in the air with clenched fists.
“A living legend, that is what Messi is. A 24-year-old youth who rides to infinity and who appears to have no limits,” the newspaper added.
Messi’s hat-trick took his tally to 234 goals for the club to overtake Cesar Rodriguez, who had a prolific spell for Barcelona in the 1940s and ’50s and died in 1995 at the age of 74, as the club’s all-time leading scorer.
It also turned him into the top scorer in the Spanish league with 34 goals, two more than Real Madrid’s Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
“You are indelible, infinite and eternal. The future belongs to you. The future is yours,” La Vanguardia wrote of Messi.
Messi equally won plaudits back home, with the daily Cronica en Une superimposing a photograph of the player over a screen grab from the Steven Spielberg film “E.T.”, as if to emphasise his other-worldy qualities.
The newspaper wondered what Messi now needed to do to surpass the achievements of Argentina’s other footballing hero, Diego Maradona.
The sports newspaper Ole also indicated that Messi was now among the pantheon of footballing greats, headlining its coverage: “Pele, Be Afraid.”
Barcelona’s win moved the defending champions to within five points of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, largely thanks to Messi’s efforts.
“Never before in recent years has a player given the sensation that what will happen on the pitch depends so much on him as is the case with Messi,” Spanish sports daily AS wrote.
Messi, who made his debut for the first team in October 2004, has scored 153 goals in the Liga, 49 in the Champions League, 19 in the Copa del Rey, eight in the Spanish Super Cup, one in the European Super Cup and four in the Club World Cup.
He has scored 18 times against Atletico Madrid, 14 times against Sevilla and 13 times against Barcelona’s arch-rivals Real Madrid.
“We have to congratulate Messi, he has scored so many goals and is only 24,” said Barca coach Pep Guardiola.
“He does not just score ordinary goals but great goals and we hope he gets lots more for us, we can compare him perhaps to Michael Jordan in football.”
Previously, Cesar was believed to have scored 235 goals for Barcelona but a study revealed that the striker had in fact scored 232 goals — a statistic confirmed earlier on Tuesday on Barca’s website.