In terms of goalscoring exploits, Fernando Peyroteo’s achievement in 1938 used to be the benchmark. The grandnephew of António César de Vasconcelos Correia – the 93rd governor of Portuguese India – had arrived at Sporting Lisbon the previous summer after being spotted by scouts while he was growing up in Angola, and promptly scored an astonishing 69 goals in 33 appearances as part of the celebrated Cinco Violinos (Five Violins) forward line.
To put that figure into perspective, that meant Peyroteo became only the third man in history to pass the 60-goal mark in a calendar year, following in the footsteps of Hungary’s Imre Schlosser (64) in 1912 and Everton’s Dixie Dean (62) in 1927. Amazingly, he went on to repeat the feat eight years later, finding the net on 62 occasions in 32 appearances, including one match in which he recorded nine. “Fernando was a goalscoring machine,” declared the manager Cândido de Oliveira at the time.
Defenses have certainly improved in the intervening years, even if Pelé and Gerd Müller managed to break through the 70-goal barrier for the first time in 1958 and 1972 respectively. But the emergence of Lionel Messi’s rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo has set new standards in European football. Since Messi joined the exclusive club in 2010 by scoring 60 goals, he and his arch rival have both surpassed that figure on four occasions, with Messi’s 91 in 69 matches during 2012 – achieved at rate of 1.32 goals per game and including six hat-tricks – the current record.
He may not have hit those heights this year, but with Messi, Ronaldo and three others still vying to become 2017’s top scorer, there is more competition than ever before.
Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani and Harry Kane have all enjoyed record-breaking years for club and country, with the Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain strikers both tied with Messi and Ronaldo on 53 goals and Tottenham’s Kane only three behind. But while all of his rivals have entered the winter break, the Spurs striker still has a fixture against Southampton to come. He succeeded in equaling Alan Shearer’s record of 36 Premier League goals in a calendar year when he scored a hat-trick against Burnley on Saturday.
Clearly irked by his failure to win the kicker Torjägerkanone for the Bundesliga’s top scorer back in May, Lewandowski has made up for losing out to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by setting a slew of new records since. In September, a return of 82 goals in his first 100 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern meant the 29-year-old surpassed Rudi Völler’s record of 72, while he also became the first player to score 16 goals in a major European international qualifying campaign as Poland booked a World Cup spot in Russia with ease.
Renowned as a penalty expert – he has missed just three from 38 in his entire career, including converting all 10 this year – Lewandowski has also scored an unusually high number of goals with his left foot (11) in 2017 in comparison with previous seasons, including the winner against Cologne last week and in the recent Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain. However, his failure to score against Stuttgart on December means he has missed the opportunity to increase his tally.
PSG’s Edinson Cavani scored his goal of the year against Caen on Wednesday after ending a run of five matches without scoring against Rennes. Predominantly right-footed (just four of his goals this year have been converted by his weaker foot), Cavani’s exploits are all the more remarkable given that he now shares penalty duties with Neymar following their high-profile disagreement during the win over Lyon in September. His miss against Troyes at the end of last month came just three days after Neymar converted from the spot against Monaco and would have given the Uruguayan a slender lead going into his final match of the year.
Perhaps Messi’s goal against Real Madrid over the weekend will determine the race for the goalscorer of 2017. Messi equalled another of Müller’s seemingly insurmountable tallies when he scored his 525th goal for Barcelona against Villarreal this month – a record number for a single club in Europe’s major leagues. Had one of his three efforts that hit the woodwork against Deportivo La Coruña (not to mention the penalty saved by Rubén) gone in, he would already be out on his own, although perhaps it was fate that it should go down to the final match of the year.
Failure from the spot against Deportivo also meant Messi is the first Barça player to miss three penalties in a calendar year since Samuel Eto’o in 2005, but with 17 assists to add to his 53 goals for club and country, he remains by far the most productive of the five contenders. Only his former team-mate Neymar (33 goals and 29 assists) comes close to matching the Argentina forward’s overall tally of being directly involved in 70 goals in 2017.
By way of contrast, Ronaldo has reached 53 goals having made four fewer appearances – incidentally his lowest total since 2010 – and contributed 13 assists in leading Real Madrid to five trophies this year. With seven goals in his last six appearances, the Portuguese has the form to edge ahead of Messi, and the rest, when it matters most. And how he would love to get another one over his nemesis a few weeks after equaling his record of winning a fifth Ballon d’Or.
The Guardian Sport