“MY record stood for 40 years – 85 goals in 60 games – and now the best player in the world has broken it and I’m delighted for him.”
Gerd Muller’s reaction to Lionel Messi’s astonishing goalscoring feat this week was both magnanimous and dignified.
But was it accurate?
Should that statement have read 84 years?
Because another goalscoring genius once enjoyed a year just as prolific as Muller and Messi’s.
On Sunday night Barcelona’s Argentinian genius scored his 86th goal of the calendar year, with three more games to play.
It was widely publicised that Messi’s haul had overtaken the phenomenal German goal poacher Gerd Muller’s goal laden year of 85 in 1972.
But Muller was probably unaware that almost half-a-century before his remarkable year, one of the greatest English goalscorers of all-time enjoyed his own remarkable year.
We live in a stats obsessed age.
So little comment did Muller’s 85 goals arouse back in 1972 that German football historian Uli Hesse admits he wasn’t aware of Muller’s record breaking year until a few weeks ago.
No-one has scored more goals in an English First Division season than Dixie Dean, who plundered a surely never to be broken 60 league goals in 1927/28. (Messi holds the La Liga record with 50).
But while Dean’s century of goals in that same season has often been written about, no-one has recorded his own 85 in a calendar year.
1928 was the most goal-laden year of the Everton striker’s celebrated career – just (1931 ran it very close).
Messi has scored 56 goals in 36 league games in 2012.
Muller managed 42 in 34 in 1972. In 1928 Dean plundered 45 in 36.
Messi also had the Champions League (13 goals), the Copa del Tey (3), Spanish SUper Cup (2), international friendlies for Argentina (7) and World Cup qualifiers (5) to add to his tally.
Muller had the German Cup (seven in six), 12 in five in the League Cup, 10 in four in the European Cup, one in 4 in the Cup Winners’ Cup and 13 in seven for Germany.
Back in 1928 only the league and the FA Cup existed domestically, but numerous other representative matches existed in which Dean was selected – and prospered.
Dean scored five goals for England in full internationals, plus a further eight in two ‘trial’ matches.
Trial games were effectively friendlies used by the FA to determine who would represent the country in forthcoming internationals, and they were spiky affairs.
The trial match in March was watched by 20,000 spectators in Middlesbrough, while the first trial at The Hawthorns attracted a 12,000 gate.
The Football League versus Scottish League matches were even more intense occasions.
A crowd of 60,000 crammed into Ibrox to watch Dean score twice – and miss a penalty – in the Football League’s 6-2 success, a match Dean was forced to miss his club side’s league encounter with Portsmouth to play in.
The trip to Ireland to face the Irish League in September also forced him to miss a First Division match at Huddersfield.
Then there were end of season tour games – prestigious affairs in which the spotlight was always focused on Dean, Lancashire Cup ties, pre-season Blues v Whites trial matches which were always fiercely contested clashes and watched by gates of 17,000 and 20,000 – and a Lancashire FA v FA XI representative match.
Football has changed dramatically since the 1920s with some fixtures growing in significance since then.
On October 24, 1928 Dean scored twice for the champions in a Charity Shield clash at Old Trafford against FA Cup winners in Blackburn. Just 4,000 watched the match.
Now the Charity Shield is a pre-season sell-out usually staged at Wembley Stadium.
Who can compare the relative merits of a Copa del Rey clash against a Spanish third division side, the German Cup or a Lancashire Cup clash?
If you include modern friendly matches, Messi has actually rattled an even more remarkable (sufficient superlatives don’t exist to describe his talent) 91 goals in 2012.
“He is an incredible player, gigantic,” said Muller.
Of Muller, Franz Beckenbauer once said:
“He was a phenomenon. Thank God he played for Bayern and Germany.”
While Bill Shankly coined the most emotive tribute for Dean.
“Dixie was the greatest centre forward there will ever be,” he declared.
“His record of goalscoring is the most amazing thing under the sun. He belongs in the company of the supremely great ... like Beethoven, Shakespeare and Rembrandt.”
Messi, Muller . . . and Dixie.
It’s pointless trying to analyse who was the greatest. You can only be the best of your era – and that trio are three of the greatest goalscorers of all-time.