What next for Messi?
Barcelona - Spring came to Spain on Wednesday with some much-needed rain and with one particular question in the air: What next for Lionel Messi?
On Tuesday the three-time FIFA World Player put away a hat-trick in Barcelona's 5-3 destruction of Granada, taking his league tally to a Barcelona club record 234 goals, two more than 1950s hero Cesar.
Messi's latest heroics took his Liga season total to 34 which is also the highest for a Barca player. It left him two goals above Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo in the scorers' chart, and - with 10 matches left - with the distinct possibility of breaking Ronaldo's record of 40 from last season.
Messi's record was front-page news in almost every Spanish newspaper on Wednesday, not only the Catalan ones.
Even the media in Madrid were full of praise for him, with Radio Marca labelling him "possibly the greatest player ever," and AS calling him "a truly remarkable footballer."
After the Granada match, Barca coach Pep Guardiola was - unusually for someone so phlegmatic - exuberant in his praise of Messi.
"He does not just put away goals, he scores great goals. Each of his goals seems to be better than the previous one," said Guardiola.
Guardiola then reminded the assembled media that not only had Messi scored three goals, but that he had also set up Barca's other two goals for Xavi and Cristian Tello.
"We are talking about the best player ever, in every sense...He has now entered into football history at the age of 24, and this has caused us to remember Cesar, another historic player.
"If he (Messi) continues like this, he will establish a scoring record that nobody will ever beat. He has everything but the most important thing is his mentality, which is very strong."
Guardiola finished with what has been interpreted as a message to Ronaldo: "I feel sorry for those who would like to knock him off his throne, because that is impossible."
Messi scored his first goals for Barca as a skinny 17 year-old, back in 2005, five years after arriving from his native Argentine city of Rosario.
In an astonishing seven-year spell, he has led the Catalans to two Club World Cups, three Champions Leagues and five Spanish Ligas.
He has 54 goals in all this season from 45 competitive games, including a Champions League-record five in one game in Barca's 7-1 destruction of Bayer Leverkusen two weeks ago.
However, he has only won the Pichichi trophy for top scorer in La Liga once, in 2009/10. But who would now bet against him eventually equalling the record of six Pichichis won by Athletic Bilbao's 1940s hero Telmo Zarra?
Messi is poised to overtake Zarra's all-time Liga record of 252 goals within a couple of seasons, and might even challenge Pele's mythical record of 1,000 goals.
Messi's other future challenge, of course, is to win something with Argentina. Last week he described his Argentina experience as "something of a frustration."
For the time being, though, he is happy enough to continue putting away the goals for Barca, celebrating each one with his trademark modest smile.
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