How does Lionel Messi stack up against football legends?

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi has set the record for most goals in a calendar year by scoring his 86th goal of 2012.

The 25-year-old's tally includes games for Barcelona and his country, Argentina.

Messi scored two goals against Real Betis to beat the previous record, set by German player Gerd Mueller in 1972.

He's now favourite to win a fourth Fifa World Player of the Year award.

Messi also made history in March 2012 when he became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match.

At the time, Wayne Rooney tweeted: "Messi is a joke. For me the best ever."

But how does the Argentine ace stack up against some of the all-time greats of the game?

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

The Frenchman is one of only three players to have been named Fifa World Player of the Year three times (Messi and Brazil's Ronaldo are the other two).

Zidane's international career saw him lift the World Cup and European Cup with France in 1998 and 2000.

His club heroics included winning La Liga with Real Madrid and scoring the winning goal - a volley - in the final of the 2002 Champions League.

He was a controversial character though, with a fiery temper, and was famously sent off in the 2006 World Cup final for head-butting Italy's Marco Materazzi.

Pele

Pele

Probably the most popular pick for the greatest footballer ever.

The Brazilian is his country's record scorer and best known for his international exploits, bagging 77 goals in 91 appearances.

He's also the only player to have been part of three World Cup-winning squads.

Pele lifted the cup in 1958 (scoring two goals in the final when he was only 17), 1962 and 1970.

In the 1970 final he scored one goal, assisted two and went on to be named the tournament's best player.

Pele himself doesn't think Messi is the greatest. He recently said: "When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it."

Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff

The Dutchman's legacy lives on today, not least in the Cruyff Turn, his trademark dribbling move that's been copied the world over.

His skill, passing ability and awareness also helped the famous Ajax side of the 1970s to win two European Cups in 1971 and 1972.

Cruyff later played for Barcelona and is one of only four players to have won the Ballon d'Or - the award for Europe's best player - three times.

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

A name that will forever grate on the minds of England fans - his 'hand of God' handball goal helped knock England out of the 1986 World Cup.

Despite the controversy, Maradona's skill is legendary.

His second goal against England in 1986 is viewed as one of the tournament's best ever goals.

The Argentinian dribbled half the length of the pitch to beat most of the bemused England team.

Winner of Fifa's Player of the Century award, he played in four World Cups - winning in 1986 - and also twice moved between clubs for world record transfer fees.

However, a failed drugs test at the 1994 World Cup ended the Argentinian's international career.

Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano

A Real Madrid legend - Di Stefano was vital in the Spanish side winning the European Cup from 1956-60.

During his 11 years with Madrid he topped the league's scorers' chart five times and won eight league winners medals.

He scored 216 goals in 282 league games for Real and is the fourth highest scorer in Spanish league history.

An Argentinian by birth, he played for both his home country and Spain.

Pundit's view

Louis Massarella, features editor at FourFourTwo, says it's hard to imagine any player from the past being better than Messi.

Criticising his lack of international success may also be misleading: "These days, the club game is king," says Massarella.

"Messi is never likely to be in top condition when he turns up to play for Argentina.

"He has, though, been the best player for the best club side of all time."

The football writer puts Messi ahead of Pele but behind Maradona.

"[Maradona] single-handedly - or should that be single-footedly? - turned Argentina from an average team into a World Cup-winning one," says Massarella.

"If Messi does manage to win a World Cup for Argentina, he can rightly claim to be the greatest footballer of all time."