We tend to think of Lionel Messi as a reasonably young player, but when his numbers start to parallel those of greats like Alfredo Di Stéfano, you realize longevity has also become part of the Barcelona star’s greatness. With his two goal on Sunday, Messi passed the former Real Madrid great on La Liga’s all-time scoring charts, his 228 goals one better than the Merengues icon.
The total also pulls him even with another Real Madrid legend, Raúl, for second on the league’s all-time list. Only Athletic great Telmo Zerra has scored more Primeria Divisíon goals (251).
The Argentina-born Di Stéfano (who later went on to represent Spain internationally) played with los Blancos from 1953 to 1964, leading the team to eight league titles and five European Cups. Recognized as one of the best players in the sport’s history, Di Stéfano also led the Spanish league in scoring five times and was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1957 and 1959.
The fact that Messi, still only 26 years old, is already passing some of his records puts the younger Argentine’s accomplishments in perspective. It’s a ludicrous, mind-blowing perspective, but it’s perspective nonetheless.
Messi’s already won four Ballon d’Ors. He’s led Spain in scoring three times. He’s been a part of six league champions and won three European Cups. And if Messi plays as long as Di Stéfano, he’ll have 14 more years to add to his already prodigious records.
It’s unlikely he’ll play that long. Di Stéfano was in his second season with Espanyol when he hung up his boots at 40 years old, an age few beyond Ryan Giggs wish to play to these days.
At his current pace, though, Messi may be out of records by his mid-30s. He’ll pass Zelma next year. With the quality around him, he’s likely to keep accumulating league titles. While European Cups are more precarious, Barcelona stands to be in contention for the foreseeable future. Three years younger than Cristiano Ronaldo, the question is less whether Messi wants to rewrite the record book than how long he wants to spend doing so.
The guy is only 26. If he’s already besting Di Stéfano, who knows where he’ll end up.