Comparisons between past players and present all-stars always come out fuzzy. On the one hand, everybody gripes that “the competition has improved” and the past player would get suffocated by modern defenses. On the other hand, we have to admit that the past player would have had access to superior training techniques and diet, and just may have upped his or her game. In sum, we’ll never know. History only leaves us statistics, records, images, and (if we’re lucky) videos.
Leo Messi has lit the nets aflame for FC Barcelona, but in the race to break records, lots of folks have decided to toss the past in the trash bin. Last year, FC Barcelona ran circles to re-write the past and disqualify goals from Cesar Rodriguez’s wonderful cule career. Why? Well, this facilitated Messi reaching the top spot of goals scored a week or two earlier. For the record, Josep Samitier knocked in 178, Kubala notched 194, Cesar scored 232, and Messi has 300 and counting.
However, I regret to inform you that these airbrushed tallies overlook a key player in FC Barcelona’s early history: Dr. Paulino Alcantara. Who, for the record, scored 369 goals in a cule shirt.
The argument for excluding Dr. Alcantara from the records is similar to the “modern defenders are better and therefore old goals don’t count” claim. Basically, Dr. Alcantara scored a lot of his goals while playing in friendlies. For modern fans, we view the term “friendly” with suspicion. Normally, friendlies are preseason warmup games vs. woefully over-matched Asian club teams. The goals floweth. The quality of the competition is pretty poor.
However, in Dr. Alcantara’s day, there was no La Liga. In fact, there only existed two competitions: a Catalan regional championship and the once-a-year King’s Cup tournament. Games were hard to come by. Thus, friendlies were some of the best competitive games available. We surely can’t blame Dr. Alcantara for playing the best competition at the time? More interestingly, the tiers of goals and “value” have always interested me. We seem to assume that Champions League goals are the highest value, followed by league coals and then, sigh, cup goals. Despite these tiers, nobody has dared to create a 1 CL goal =’s 1.5 King’s Cup goal equation. The only thing folks now agree upon is that a friendly goal =’s 0.
If you can get over the “friendly” issue, Dr. Alcantara has a pretty compelling case. In terms of stats, Dr. Alcantara set his record in the briefest of time periods: he became a first team regular for FC Barcelona at age 22, and retired at age 31 to study medicine. I don’t care if you’ve been playing beer leagues – 369 goals in nine years is impressive. Plus, with “modern training and diet” he may have started younger and played longer. And who knows what amazing human growth hormones Barcelona would have paid under the table to fill his adolescent body with?
More importantly, what will happen in the future to Messi’s records? Will we totally discredit King’s Cup goals by that time? Will goals scored against teams in the bottom half of the table still count? Should they? If Franco had not suspended the Catalan regional league (and all other regional leagues), then would most of Dr. Alcantara’s goals still count? Nobody has answers to these questions because they lead in the opposite direction. Rather, it’s easier to say Dr. Alcantara doesn’t exist. At least until Messi’s goal tally approaches 370 – then expect the Doctor to reappear and disappear for the sake of convenience.
Lastly, here a some qualitative reasons why Alcantara is better than Messi:
1) He would have died for Barcelona. As a teenager, Dr. Alcantara’s family moved to the Philippines. In his absence, Barcelona sputtered. Paulino contracted malaria and refused to take his medication until his family returned to Barcelona. If Messi got a cold, you know he’d down the Coricidin quicker than you can say robo-trip. Advantage: the Doctor.
2) He won a tournament for his national team. Granted, Messi got a gold medal at the Olympics. However, the stars of that Argentine national team were the in-form Riquelme, the emerging Di Maria, and the lethal Carlos Tevez. Since then, Messi has sputtered in an albiceleste shirt. However, Dr. Alcantara led the Philippines to first place at the Far Eastern Championship Games in Japan. Advantage: Paulino.
3) He has won more Catalan regional champions than Messi. Of course, Franco abolished the regional leagues before Messi was born. However, a lot of Messi’s goals have come in La Liga and the Champions League – competitions that did not exist during Alcantara’s days. Thus, this is more of a toss-up.