At the tender age of 23, Lionel Messi is still a few years away from what is most soccer players' prime. But the Argentine prodigy is already widely recognized as the world's best and most exciting player. "Messi is the great one," says Gabriele Marcotti at The Wall Street Journal. His almost magical ballhandling and spectacular breakaway goals have made him a YouTube sensation (see one compilation here). And his skills are as easy to spot on a stat sheet as they are on instant replay. His latest feat: Messi is on track to smash a Spanish league record for most goals in a single season. Here's a look at Messi's achievements, by the numbers:
Number of goals Messi has scored this season in Spain's prestigious La Liga, where he plays for the storied franchise Barcelona. That's already tied the all-time record — and Messi still has at least nine games to play.
Number of assists Messi has this year. He also leads La Liga in that category.
Total goals Messi has scored in La Liga since he joined Barcelona for the 2004-2005 season. The all-time record is held by Telmo Zarra, who netted 252 goals over an 18-year career.
Number of goals Messi scored for Argentina during the 2010 World Cup. The national team, picked as one of the favorites to win the tournament, was crushed by Germany, 4-0, in the quarterfinals. "Messi did almost everything right in South Africa," says Jamie Trecker at Fox Sports, "but even the best player in the world cannot both lead the orchestra and play second violin."
Number of times Messi has won player of the year honors from Fifa (2009 and 2010)
Number of times Messi has won "footballer of the year" in Argentina
Messi's height. He is known as "la pulga," which translates to "the flea."
Messi's height at age 11. He was so undersized that a doctor prescribed daily human growth hormone treatments.
Messi's age when he accepted a development contract with Barcelona. The cost of the growth-hormone treatment was one reason his father accepted the deal.
Messi's age when he made his debut appearance with Argentina's national team (in 2005)
Number of Facebook fans Messi has attracted since his page went live in February. He is the fourth most popular athlete on the social networking site, trailing only NBA stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and fellow soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, who boasts a whopping 23 million fans.
Amount Messi will earn this year, according to the website The Richest. He's still far behind Tiger Woods, the world's highest-paid athlete, who made $74 million from endorsements alone in 2010.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, The Richest, Telegraph, Fox Sports