Last night those of us who watched the Arsenal – Barcelona game were treated to another virtuoso performance from the majestic Lionel Messi.
I watched a film about him last week, sitting in my good lady’s living room.
It was essentially Messi: The Movie, a film which was a collection of memories, people sitting offering their recollections about his career.
They were gathered in a restaurant, and much of the film was them chatting, in various languages, about his exploits.
The copy I was watching had no subtitles so I didn’t understand a word of it … but my good lady and I watched every minute because interspersed with those stories was footage, glorious, incredible, heart thumping footage of a genius at work.
Messi is on the way to shattering nearly every modern record in the game.
Those who debate who the greatest player in the history of the sport was have to mention him in the conversation, and probably in the context of being in the top spot or within touching distance of it. He is one of the greatest, if not the absolute, best of all time.
His goal scoring record is incredible; he plays at the absolute top level in the sport.
Few players in history come close to his consistency, but amazingly enough the game has another super-talent in it at the moment in Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of those greats.
These guys are almost un-naturally gifted, predators with a nearly supernatural talent for finding ways to put the ball in the net.
Celtic has always had great strikers, but one stands out above all others and he, as much as if not more so than Larsson and Dalglish, our acknowledged greatest ever forwards, belongs in the same bracket at Messi, Ronaldo, Muller, Puskas and Pele.
I refer, of course, to James McGrory, who’s record as the most prolific striker in this history of British football stands today and will almost certainly never be beaten.
We’ll never see McGrory: The Movie because he played in an era before there were cameras at every game. Messi’s film is intercut with amateur video footage of his goals, some of it going back to his childhood when he played for a local team in Argentina, and in those clips you see a boy barely as big as the ball beating other players, many much bigger and stronger, with an almost casual ease which reveals an extraordinary natural ability even then.
It would be quite something to see the way he glided past players and scored for fun.
From the historical records we can infer that he was deadly in front of goal; his record is phenomenal.
Messi has scored 37 career hat-tricks amongst 490 career goals. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 39 hat-tricks and between his goals for Real Madrid and Manchester United has 528 goals. McGrory, incredibly, scored 56 hat-tricks including the memorable occasion when he bagged eight goals in a single match, against Dunfermline, in 1928.
He scored 485 goals in top flight games, and, according to FIFA’s records, has 550 goals from 547 appearances overall.
Messi’s 490 goals came over 619 games.
Ronaldo’s 528 were accumulated in 778 matches.
James McGrory’s goals-to-games ratio eclipses them both.
There are no parallels in modern football for what this guy did. Puskas, Muller and Pele all scored more than our club’s greatest ever striker and there are others too, but McGrory is recognised by FIFA as one of the ten most prolific finishers in the history of the game.
He may well be caught by the two fantastic modern players who score so regularly at the moment, but they will never come close to that goal per game ratio which McGrory set, and his British record will almost certainly stand the test of time.
I saw Larsson, but was too young for Dalglish. My father was fortunate enough to remember them both in their peak. Neither of us saw McGrory; even my late grandfather wasn’t around to see him destroy defences with such regularity but his name reverberates around Celtic Park for every home game with the Willie Maley song.
His place in our history, and that of the greater game, is forever.
He was one of the greats, not just in Scotland but the world. What an honour and privilege it must have been to have watched him play.