Great players in great teams

Lionel Messi has a maximum of four games this year, starting with Barca's game against Benfica on Wednesday, to knock in the two goals that will take him past Gerd Muller's record, set in 1972, of 85 goals for club and country in a calendar year.

Clearly, both have been pivotal to their teams' fortunes. Each time they scored in the period, West Germany and Argentina have gone on to win the game. Bayern won 83 per cent of games Muller scored in '72. For Barca and Messi the number this year is 91.

Muller's streak also coincided with the success of his teams as measured in trophies. His goals (two in the final), helped Germany to the European Championship in '72 and Bayern to league titles in 71-72 and 72-73. Messi has been a little unlucky on that count. Barca finished second in the league last season, but only to a Real Madrid side that notched a record 100 points and 121 goals. They went out to eventual winners Chelsea in the Champions League semis but won the rest: UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, Super Copa and Copa del Ray.

The sides that got the better of Barca and Messi seemed expressly built to stop them. While '72 was the season that announced Muller to the world, rivals have been wary of Messi for a while now and that he seems to get only more prolific, in our age of total information, redounds to his credit.

It is also no coincidence that both the forwards benefitted from an ensemble cast manning the supply lines. Muller had once-in-a-generation talents like Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness running the show behind him for both Bayern and West Germany while Barca boast the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. After all, in football you can't run faster than the ball. Even if you are Messi or Muller.

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