In sports, there are certain benchmarks statistically that display complete dominance.
In basketball, it’s averaging a triple-double for a season — only Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook have done that. In baseball, it’s being a member of the 40/40 club, which is 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases. Four men — Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez and Alphonso Soriano — have accomplished that feat. But the most difficult achievement is the 20/20 club in soccer. Twenty goals and 20 assists in a league campaign. It’s the hardest feat to accomplish because the top European leagues play 38-game season (while the Bundesliga plays 34 matches due to having 18 teams in their top-flight). The NBA plays 82 games in their regular season and MLB plays 162 games.
In the 21st century, Arsenal’s Thierry Henry in 2002-03 and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in 2019-20 have been the only members of the 20/20 club. Henry had 24 goals and 20 assists, the Premier League record. Messi had 25 goals and 21 assists, a record in La Liga. The Gunners finished their season second in the Premier League, five points behind rivals Manchester United. The Blaugrana finished their season second in La Liga, five points behind their eternal enemy, Real Madrid. This is a small sample size, but in the two examples we have, when your best player has to do the majority of the work in the final third, the side suffers slightly.
In Henry’s previous season before he broke ground in the 20/20 club, Arsenal and France’s all-time leading goalscorer won his first of four Golden Boots in the league, a record. The three-time Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year scored 24 goals and only had five assists. Robert Pires led the side with 15 assists, second in the league, and Dennis Bergkamp was second with 11, tied for fourth in the league. The 2002-03 season saw Bergkamp create 10 assists in the league, but Pires only had five. That made Henry have to step up his distribution, but it was not enough to help his club retain their league title. The following season, The Gunners became the Invincibles. Arsene Wenger and his team learned their lesson from the previous season. Henry focused on being an assassin by finishing with 30 goals for his second Golden Boot. The versatile attacker also added nine assists.
Messi’s situation differs from his former teammate. While Henry was an excellent passer and very unselfish, he only led the Premier League in assists once. Argentina and Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer won his sixth assists title this past season, which extends his own record. He also broke the record for most Pichichi Trophies, awarded to La Liga’s leading goalscorer, with seven. In Barca’s heyday, Andres Iniesta won one assists title. Xavi won two assists titles, and Dani Alves won one assists title. The footballers were among the top playmakers in the league. As they aged and eventually left the club, Jordi Alba, Neymar and Luis Suarez all won two assists title. One was shared with Messi, who would step up to fill that void. After Neymar left to go to PSG and Alba and Suarez continue to age, Messi has to do a lot more to help his team succeed.
Barca’s board haven’t made the record six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s job any easier by making questionable decisions in the transfer market, and appointing managers that aren’t good enough to lead the iconic club. This year, Messi has been very vocal about his frustrations with the board, which is extremely rare.
In all things, there has to be a balance. The 20/20 club is an astonishing feat, only legendary players can reach that threshold. But in the end, it doesn’t seem to be justify the means because to win the league. One person can’t do everything.
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