IF LIONEL MESSI’S hat-trick against Granada proved anything, it’s that he didn’t need any help from revisionist historians in his quest to topple César Rodriguez as Barcelona’s all-time official top goalscorer.
The record keepers did their bit anyway, anxious no doubt to be part of a legend that is only beginning to come into its prime. Barca’s Center of Documentation and Studies – their in-house equivalent of the Dubious Goals Committee — chalked off three of César’s goals, slimming his total to 232 in official competitions and leaving Messi just one adrift as he laced up his boots on Tuesday night.
The rejigged arithmetic was academic, in every sense of the word. Messi sauntered on to 234 goals, without the hoo-hah of a Nike-branded “Just Done It” t-shirt like the one sported by Ian Wright when he passed Cliff Basten as Arsenal’s record-scorer in September 1997.
Of course he had just done it; this is Lionel Messi, perhaps the most effortlessly brilliant player ever to kick a football. For those who stand firm in their belief that Barcelona shouldn’t have meddled with César’s 235 goals, Messi will beat that too, if not this weekend against Mallorca then in the San Siro a few days later when the Catalans meet Milan in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
But everybody has a know-it-all stats nerd friend, the person who is bound to bring up Paulino Alcantara and his 369 Barcelona goals before long. They will tell you that the Filipino striker’s brilliant career came to an end in 1927 — two years before La Liga was established — and that the majority of his goals were always going to be “unofficial” by default which hardly diminishes the achievement.
The argument is one of semantics and technicalities, one which will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Without being presumptuous, it’s clear that Lionel Messi will beat even Alcantara’s record if he so desires, barring serious injury.
But while Messi is rightly showered with every superlative under the sun this week, Alcantara’s brilliance has been given short shrift. A footnote to the progress of history, at best.
Mercifully, the club itself has not been so short-sighted. Earlier this month, Barcelona made a presentation to Alcantara’s granddaughters before the game against Sporting Gijon, marking the 100th anniversary of his Blaugrana debut.
It was in February 1912 that this little Filippino immigrant, discovered by club founder Joan Gamper, first pulled on the iconic Barcelona jersey at the age of 15. In front of about 100 spectators, Barca won 9-0; Alcantara scored a hat-trick.
The records which he set as the club’s youngest-ever player and youngest-ever scorer still stand, and not even Leo Messi can take those away (Messi was 16 when he made his first team debut in a friendly, and almost 18 when he scored his first Barcelona goal).
Unsurprisingly, Alcantara was Barcelona’s first superstar as well as being the first Asian footballer to make his mark on the European game. When he returned with his parents to the Philippines in 1916, Barcelona’s run of trophy after trophy dried up; the club won nothing until an adamant Alcantara — who contracted malaria and refused to take the medication until he was allowed to leave, according to legend — strong-armed his parents into letting him return to Spain the next year.
There, alongside the English manager Jack Greenwell, he added eight more Catalonian Championships and four Copa del Reys before hanging up his boots to become a doctor at the age of 31.
The legends surrounding Alcantara’s prime live on: that he was nicknamed “Trencaxarxes” (“the net breaker”) after ripping the net with a shot during an international between the Philippines and France; and that he once hit a shot so powerful that it knocked over a policeman who was inadvertently crossing the pitch, sweeping both him and ball into the goal.
Take Alcantara’s “unofficial” goals out of the equation and he is still sixth on the list of Barcelona’s competitive scorers with 142, more than Eto’o, Rivaldo, Kluivert, Stoichkov or any other modern great.
Those who wish to debate the significance of Messi’s 233rd goal, that wonderfully insouciant lob against Granada, will do so regardless. But however the story plays out in the coming years, Paulino Alcantara has earned his place in history.