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Stats entertainment

OK, fine, so numbers and statistics are soulless.

Lionel Messi has twice bettered 30 La Liga goals alreadyPhotograph: Reuters
Lionel Messi has twice bettered 30 La Liga goals alreadyPhotograph: Reuters

And it's crass and unromantic to reduce Lionel Messi to numbers. But please consider the following. In the last 60 years, the 30 league goal mark has been exceeded 10 times. The legendary Hugo Sanchez did it twice. So did Messi. Nobody else has done it more than once.

Messi has 28 La Liga goals this season – he's on track to score 42 – so it appears a dead certainty that he will become the first to pass that mark on three different occasions. And guess what? He doesn't turn 25 until the summer. Which means he'll have plenty more opportunities to do it again and again.

When you get a sudden spike in numbers, the logical conclusion is to look for some kind of underlying reason, a paradigm shift: in this case, the fact that Messi is putting up those numbers because everybody is scoring more goals.

Except that it's not true. Goalscoring rates overall in the Spanish top flight have remained roughly constant over the past few decades.

What's more, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, it's not as if there's anybody else who is scoring substantially more. The two of them have been side by side on a goalscoring record-breaking run. Both have already netted enough times this year – with a third of the season left – to win the "Pichichi", or goalscoring title, in eight of the nine seasons before 2008, when Messi established himself as a starter at the Camp Nou.

There's more. Telmo Zarra, who played in the 1940s and 1950s (a far more goal-happy era) is the all-time leading Spanish scorer with 252.

Messi already has 147: at his current rate, he'll break it before his 29th birthday. By that stage, at his current pace, he will likely also have demolished the record for most goals in European competition.

This season, he has 45 in 40 appearances in all competitions, suggesting he will pulverise the record of 53 that he set last season. In fact, there's a decent chance he'll break the 60-goal mark. But, of course, there's more to Messi than goals. He led the league in assists last year and has finished in the top three in each of the last three seasons. Which means he's not just a selfish goalhanger. Far from it.

"His biggest contribution isn't his goals, it's the fact that he makes everybody around him better," says his team-mate Alexis Sanchez.

"The opposition is so conditioned by his presence that every motion, every run, every nod of the head, provokes a reaction and that creates space and makes it easier for the rest of us."

You watch him and you can't help but feel that you're witnessing history unfold before your very eyes. This is the kind of thing that you'll be telling your grandchildren about. I watched Messi play.

If you were fortunate enough to catch the five he put past Bayer Leverkusen this week, that's really all you need.

This is the footballing equivalent of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.

Forget the debates about whether he's the greatest ever. Pele and Diego Maradona had their time. And it was before satellite television and YouTube.

Appreciate them for what they were and love him for what he is. Everything this man does is right there, a data packet away on the web.

Xavi, the guy responsible for his supply, puts it best. "The terrifying thing is that you don't know where his ceiling is," he said. "You're in uncharted waters, there are no landmarks. There's no point in setting limits to what he can achieve."

Just when you thought they couldn't get any sillier, the powers-that-be of English football strike again. Last month, they issued a stern warning to the media over the England coaching vacancy. Their lawyers warned against any kind of "speculation" regarding the recruitment process unless it was "factually correct and properly sourced".

Now, speculation is conjecture. It's making an educated guess about what could happen. If it was "factually correct" then it would be fact. Or clairvoyance.

This week they contacted managers – via the Premier League – telling them pretty much the same thing. They must not discuss the vacancy.

It's too easy to remind these guys that we're not in North Korea. You don't have to be Sir Alex Ferguson, who has contributed more to football in this country than the current FA head honchos would in several lifetimes, to have the right to share your opinion on whether Harry Redknapp would make a good England manager. Steve Kean has exactly the same right. So too does Kean's hairdresser. Or – if they could talk – Kean's socks.

Neither is it the simple point that they're responsible for the fact that there is a vacancy in the first place. They had a manager and, statistically, he was the most successful England coach ever.

And they're also responsible for the fact that he departed before they could put together any plausible plan to replace him.

The fact that Alex Horne, the FA general secretary, said last week that they'll probably make an appointment "at the back end of the season" suggests they still have no plan.

Rather, you wonder if these people have any clue how silly they look in issuing the kind of edicts which make them sound like Banana Republic generalissimos who solve problems by simply barring anyone from talking about them.

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