Lionel Messi has yet another reason to be considered among the very best to have played football as he became the Spanish league’s all-time leading scorer with 253 on Saturday.
Messi notched a hat trick to lead Barcelona’s 5-1 rout of Sevilla and surpass the previous mark of 251 goals that Athletic Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra set in 271 La Liga games from 1940-55.
Playing in his 289th league game, the 27-year-old Messi first equaled Zarra’s record in the 21st minute and then beat it in the 72nd at Camp Nou Stadium. The Argentine went on to get his treble in the 78th with his 253rd league goal.
In a league that has featured some of the world’s most talented attacking players through its 83 seasons, including Alfredo di Stefano, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi stands alone as its most potent scorer after bettering a milestone that had stood untouched for almost 60 years.
Messi thanked his supporters on Facebook and posted a video of his first league goal scored on May 1, 2005.
“When I scored this goal, I couldn’t imagine I could break any record, let alone this one previously held by the great Telmo Zarra” Messi wrote.
“I was only able to achieve this because of the support I have had from so many people during my time here and I would like to dedicate this achievement to you all.”
Messi debuted in the league on Oct. 16, 2004 at the age of 16. And just over 10 years later he has eclipsed Zarra.
“I never thought anyone would reach Zarra, who played in an era with more forwards than defenders,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
“(Messi) is beyond comparison, one of a kind, never to be seen again. We are lucky to have him here, to enjoy him and to see where he leaves this record.”
Messi’s latest scoring feat comes after he equaled Raul Gonzalez as the Champions League all-time scorer with 71 goals this month.
The record also arrives at a perfect time to thrill Messi’s fans who were worried by his recent remarks that he might be questioning his long-term commitment to the club. His father-agent has since dismissed such concerns.
“Messi! Messi! Messi!” rang out through the Camp Nou in the final minutes, and again after a post-match video in Messi’s honor.
The team lined up to form an honor guard as Messi jogged off the pitch smiling broadly.
“I’m happy for Leo,” Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez said. “It’s an incredible record. He deserves it as a person and as a player. He showed again that he is happy here.”
Messi’s 22nd treble for Barcelona increased his club record to 365 goals in all competitions. He also holds the Spanish league’s single-season scoring record of 50 goals in 2011-12, and his 91 goals in 2012 broke Gerd Mueller’s 40-year-old milestone of 85 goals in one year.
After having been denied his record-equaling goal during a rare three-game streak without scoring, Messi finally broke through with an elegant free kick after he had earned the foul.
He then tapped in a cross from Neymar to set the new mark, leading to an impromptu mid-match celebration by his teammates, who tossed him in the air.
“It was spontaneous,” Neymar said. “For me it is an honor to play beside him.”
Once back on his feet Messi added another goal with his trademark move of dribbling across the edge of the area with his left foot before firing home.
Messi may have come one win short of leading Argentina to a World Cup title this summer, but he continues to excel for the club he joined as a teenager.
Besides his record four world player of the year awards, Messi has led Barcelona to three Champions League titles and six Spanish league titles among many other trophies.
Messi can focus on breaking Raul’s mark in Europe, with Ronaldo on his heels. His first chance will be at Cypriot club APOEL on Tuesday. Ronaldo is right behind with 70 goals.
The rival forwards will also likely vie for the Ballon d’Or award which they have divvied up for the past six seasons. Ronaldo won it last season.
Messi, however, has always insisted that his main goal is winning team titles. Last season Barcelona failed to win a major title for the first time since 2006-07. Saturday’s win kept it in second place behind Madrid.