By JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Step aside John Cruyff. Move over Laszlo Kubala, Romario and Ronald Koeman. And, please, don't even mention Ronaldinho.
If anyone doubted who is the best scorer to don Barcelona's burgundy and blue, Lionel Messi ended the debate in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night with a hat trick to become the club's career goals leader.
Messi broke Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year-old Barcelona record, getting his eighth hat trick of the season in a 5-3 Spanish league win over Granada that increased his goals total to 234.
"We are before the best player in absolutely every facet," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "He is capable of everything that a football player must do and he does it every three days. I am sorry for those who want to dethrone him, but he is simply different from all the rest. Messi has entered the history of the club at just 24 years of age. If he continues like this in the coming years, he will score so many goals that he will never be surpassed."
Guardiola said that Messi was to soccer what Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan was to basketball.
"Jordan dominated his sport and Messi dominates this one," the former Barcelona midfielder said. "The first thing about Messi to point out is his mentality. He has great quality, of course. But the important thing is his mental strength."
While Cesar set the mark in 13 seasons from 1942-1955, Messi needed just under eight campaigns to pass his milestone.
"He is defining an era. He is the best," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdez said.
Nicknamed "The Flea" for his headlong, goal-bound bursts, Messi made his Barcelona debut in 2004.
He tied Cesar's record on a left-footed shot in the 17th minute for his 232nd goal, then chipped the goalkeeper for a 3-2 lead in the 67th. He added a goal from a tight angle in the 86th, increasing his season total to a career-best 54.
A three-time FIFA player of the year, Messi has 17 goals during a seven-game scoring streak and leads La Liga with 34 goals, two ahead of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
The hat trick was Messi's 18th for Barcelona and gave him 154 goals in his last 153 games over three seasons. His six hat tricks in La Liga this season tie the record set by Ronaldo last year.
Messi has scored 153 goals in the Spanish league, 49 in the Champions League, 19 in the Copa del Rey, eight in the Spanish Supercup, four in the Club World Cup and one in the European Supercup.
Late Monday, Barcelona announced Cesar's total from 1942-55 was three fewer than the team previously said. A review by Barcelona's Center of Documentation and Studies and the La Vanguardia newspaper determined Cesar did not score goals attributed to him during the 1947-48, 1948-49, 1949-50 and 1952-53 seasons and also credited him with an additional goal in 1945-46.
Barcelona's sixth consecutive league win cut first-place Real Madrid's lead to five points ahead of its game at Villarreal on Wednesday.
"Messi was calm as always after the game and thanked us all for our efforts," said Cristian Tello, who also scored for Barcelona. "I have no doubt that he will end up as the best to have ever played this sport. Each game he shows that he is on another level. He doesn't stop surprising us."
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