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Head for figures

The tributes are pouring in for Lionel Messi after the Argentinian broke Barcelona’s all-time goalscoring record on Tuesday. Never one for half measures, Messi scored three in the 5-3 win over Granada and in the process, surpassed the previous club record of 232 goals set by Cesar Rodriguez in the 1930 and 50s.

It is since the arrival of coach Pep Guardiola at the beginning of the 2008-9 season that Messi’s scoring rate has really taken off. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid may also have helped sharpen the player’s striking instincts.

Messi scored 38 in Guardiola’s first year, 47 the next, and an incredible 53 last season. He already has a Spanish record 54 goals this season with 10 league games, the King’s Cup final and at least two more Champions League games left to play. The record total for a single season in Europe is the 67 scored by Everton’s Dixie Dean in 1927-28, a figure which now looks under threat.

Of his 234 goals, Messi has scored 189 with his left foot, 34 with his right, nine with his head, one with his chest and one with his left hand, El Correo said.

As almost everyone has pointed out, Messi is still only 24.

“At 24 years of age it is impossible to know what his impact on football will be,” daily El Pais wrote.

“At the moment he is the best in the world, and he aspires to be the best of all time.”

Mundo Deportivo had few doubts as to Messi’s status in the game.

“On Twitter yesterday it was written that Messi is the only player better in real life than on ‘Playstation,’” they wrote.

“With his goals, work, assists, playing football like one does in the playground, he is the number one.”

Meanwhile, while writers run out of superlatives to describe Messi, his manager Pep Guardiola, has run out of footballers with whom the Argentine can be compared. He has turned instead to basketball and specifically the dominance enjoyed by Michael Jordan during his Chicago Bulls heyday.

He said: “You have few players who dominate like this, but he does it. You can compare him perfectly to Jordan.”

Juventus milestone

While the world ponders the magnitude of Lionel Messi’s amazing achievement at Barcelona, one other modern great managed to pass a new, less heralded milestone last night. Alessandro Del Piero set a new club record for Juventus for minutes played.

Hard to believe that someone took the trouble to add all the minutes up, but thankfully someone did.

The 37-year-old’s 73-minute appearance in the Italian Cup semi-final 2-2 draw with Milan on Tuesday saw him reach the 48,610 minute mark for the Old Lady – as he surpassed the late, great Gaetano Scirea’s 48,559 tally.

To mark the occasion, del Piero, already Juventus’ leading goalscorer of all time, scored his 287th goal for the club.

Real Madrid theme park

With a Stevie G-themed hotel opening in Indonesia and the Liverpool-themed wedding in Singapore, football’s tentacles are spreading far and wide and moving into increasingly surreal areas.

Today’s ‘football will eat itself’ moment is an announcement from Real Madrid that they are to open a hotel resort and theme park in Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates.

The ‘Real Madrid Island Resort’ comes after the Spanish outfit declared their intention to build a similar theme park in Valdebebas, where the club’s training complex is based to the north east of the Spanish capital.

The deal is not the first time the club has established a tie-in with the UAE, after Emirates Airline became their official airline last summer.

The club also recently opened the Real Madrid Acadmey-Soccer School in partnership with Pro League club Bani Yas last year, with Real president Florentino Perez telling Sport360°last year he hoped the venture would “facilitate the dreams of children in the UAE”.

Bizarre claim of the day

Another bizarre story and one that had me checking that the date wasn’t April 1, comes from Syria, where state television has accused Barcelona of sending coded messages to the rebel insurgents.

Al Dunya claimed that Barcelona’s tactical formations represented a map of routes from Lebanon to Syria used to smuggle weapons to the Syrian rebels. Midfielder Andres Iniesta apparently represents the beginning of a smuggling route while a pass from Lionel Messi constitutes the successful transfer of an arms shipment. I mean, he’s good, but he’s not that good.

You can see the original Syrian TV report below.

Chelsea Klopp out

Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp admits he is flattered to be linked to the vacant Chelsea job, but says he has no interest in moving to London.

The German has been linked with the vacancy created by the departure earlier this month of Andre Villas-Boas, but Klopp says he is happy where is is.

“I can turn them down straight away,” he told Sky television after his side’sGerman Cup semi-final victory over Greuther Furth last night (see below).

“I will not be moving there. But I do think it is cool that I am being named in the same breath as Mourinho and Guardiola.

“That is enough for me – that is already a personal triumph, but I am not available, sorry.”

Goal of the day

From the Juve-Milan Italian Cup semi-final, a wonderful strike from Marko Vucinic. The Montenegrin appeared almost nonchalant as he collected the ball from outside the penalty area. There was nothing casual about his finish though.

Own goal of the day

Poor, Jasmin Fejzic. The substitute goalkeeper was brought on in the final minute of Greuther Furth’s German Cup semi-final tie against Borussia Dortmund as the game headed towards a penalty shootout. The Bosnian, regarded as a something of a specialist when it comes to saving penalties, scored an unfortunate own-goal when a shot from Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan rebounded off the post on to the head of the hapless keeper and into the back of the net.

Smoking ban

Real Madrid full-back Fabio Coentrao has paid the price for being caught on camera smoking a cigarette. The Portuguese defender has been left out of the squad for tonight’s trip to Villarreal.

Coentrao was pictured smoking outside a restaurant on his birthday, and his omission has been interpreted as a reaction to the incident.

The exclusion seems a little harsh; isn’t virtually compulsory to smoke in Spain?

Drawing a veil

While FIFA vice prsident Prince Ali bin Al Hussein continues his campaign to allow female players to wear headscarves, a French feminist organization has described such a move a “regression.”

Earlier this month, FIFA decided to allow the testing of new veils designed specifically for playing sports. The veils will be fastened with Velcro rather than the pins usually used.

However, the feminist group Ni Putes Ni Soumises (“Neither whores nor submissive”) criticized FIFA, calling the decision a “total regression.”

On the group’s Web site, NPNS President Asma Guefini said she suspects the move was motivated by Qatar, which will host the World Cup in 2022.

“I think it is influenced by intense lobbying of the rich countries of the East, including Qatar,” she said.

The FIFA ban on wearing head scarves has sparked controversy in the past; Iran’s women’s team forfeited a 2012 Olympic qualifier last year because players refused to play without wearing veils.

Finally…

Russia’s organising committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has revealed the criteria that will be used to select the final 11 host cities for the tournament.

Russia 2018 chief executive Alexei Sorokin on Tuesday said that a FIFA inspection delegation will embark on a two-and-a-half month tour of the 13 shortlisted cities from April 9, before a final decision on the venues is made in September.

Each city will be assessed on its current infrastructure development including the condition of existing stadia, hotels, roads and airports, along with local living standards, public opinion of the tournament and the potential for it to attract volunteers. Potential host cities will also be assessed over their potential legacy.

Other than the formal criteria, Sorokin said that the tournament would also represent a showcase of all that is good about Russia.

“The leading criterion is the ability to hold a sports festival with all one’s heart…to show Russian hospitality and how brilliantly, beautifully and with such warmth we can hold the World Cup,” said Sorokin. “(We want to) show the whole world that old stereotypes don’t exist anymore, that Russia is new, that Russia is young, and that Russia is a worthy partner for the world not only in the football arena but in everyday life.”

Coincidentally, as Russia steps up plans for the 2018 World Cup, sports minister Vitaly Mutko says the country will work to reduce racism among fans.

Mutko’s comments came two days after a banana was thrown at Anzhi Makhachkala’s Congolese defender Chris Samba. It was the third such incident in the past year.

“Of course it’s bad and Russia will fight against such manifestations of racism,” Mutko said.

Russia has also unveiled its provisional World Cup emblem.

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