We’ll never get a consensus about whether or not Lionel Messi is the best footballer in the world, or perhaps of all time. However, numbers make for a much more objective measurement, and according to minutes per goal or assist for players in Europe’s top 5 leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France), Messi is the most efficient footballer on the continent.
Messi has 16 goals and 7 assists in all competitions (La Liga, Champions League, Super Coppa), playing for 1114 minutes so far according to Transfermarkt, providing the stats for this graphic, made by John Burn-Murdoch. There’s only one other player who has that kind of setting up or scoring goals rate, but Franck Ribery, still with Bayern Munich, has only nine matches this season. Messi has already featured in 14.
After Barcelona beat Sevilla this weekend, coming back from 0-1 down thanks to goals by Messi and Luis Suarez, Sevilla head coach Jorge Sampaoli had some interesting things to say, most of them praising Messi and his dominance. Basically, Sampaoli suggested the match was split in two: A first half which his team dominated, a second half dominated by Messi. He said his team had a defensive plan for Barcelona, and a specific one for Messi himself. The problem is Messi doesn’t always let you execute your plans, because he’s that good.
Alvaro Morata, who has had a successful return to Real Madrid, is the only other player contributing an assist or goal every 70 minutes or less. The 24 year old has 10 goals and 4 assists through 821 minutes in a fine return for him after “exile” in the Serie with Juventus. After him comes Arjen Robben, another Bayern Munich player, but like Ribery the Dutch winger has appeared in only nine matches so far this season, slightly skewing the numbers.
Edin Dzeko is the most prolific player from the Series A. The Roma striker has scored 12 goals with 5 assists (10 goals in the league) in 1270 minutes. It’s worth mentioning that the graph, depicting the top 40 most efficient players offensively in Europe, disregards goals scored from the penalty spot. Dries Mertens of Napoli comes close with six goals and six assists in all competitions through 906 minutes, enjoying the departure of Gonzalo Higuain, who didn’t make it into the top 40.
The Premier League’s best player in terms of goals & assists per minute is Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering the season they’re having and the kind of football they’re playing. He has six goals and six assists through 906 minutes up to this point. The most prolific Ligue 1 player so far this season is Guido Carrillo of Monaco, with 4 goals and 3 assists through just 595 minutes of action, helping Monaco to a terrific start, ranked 2nd in France, 3 points behind league leaders Nice.
One more note: In our opinion, the best footballer in the world today is Luis Suarez; has been for over a year. He’s 7th on this list, with 11 goals and 6 assists in 16 matches, playing 1270 minutes. If he doesn’t win the Ballon d’Or this season, it would be a huge mistake by FIFA, although it won’t be surprising if they give it to the wrong player.