Telmo Zarra: the man Lionel Messi has to beat

Offside have received some brilliant scans of Telmo Zarra, the current all-time top scorer in La Liga, from our associates at Marca over in Spain.

Marca: Telmo Zarra uses his head for Bilbao.
Marca: Telmo Zarra uses his head for Bilbao.

The legendary striker, who officially scored 251 goals in 278 appearances in the Spanish top flight, was best known for his 15 year stint at Athletic Club of Bilbao.

Marca: Telmo Zarra goes for goal.
Marca: Telmo Zarra goes for goal.

His record as the league’s top scorer has remained since 1967, with only Hugo Sanchez, Raul and now Lionel Messi coming anywhere close to equalling or bettering his tally.

Marca: Hugo Sanchez is action for Real Madrid.
Marca: Hugo Sanchez is action for Real Madrid.

Now however, Barcelona’s Argentinian talisman is within striking distance of snatching the top spot, with just two goals separating his current total from Zarra at the summit of the scoring charts.

LEquipe: Lionel Messi celebrates his goal by touching his badge.
LEquipe: Lionel Messi celebrates his goal by touching his badge.

Cristiano Ronaldo, by contrast, is some way behind Messi’s 249 goals with only 190 to his name from 171 games, but that scoring rate makes the Portuguese one of the most efficient goalscorers in Spanish history.

The Real Madrid forward currently boasts a goals to game ratio of 1.11, which beats the rate of every other players in the top 30 list of all-time La Liga scorers. Messi’s ratio is 0.88.

However, it is Zarra who is directly behind Ronaldo with a rate of 0.91. Even after Messi overtakes the Basque hero—which is inevitable given the 27-year-old’s age and prolificness—the Argentinian won’t be able to claim he is the greater goalscorer in every capacity.

Marca: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal against Osasuna.
Marca: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal against Osasuna.

He must up his already incredible goals per game ratio to an even higher level to eclipse Zarra, and Ronaldo, although it’s unlikely that his great Portuguese rival has the years left to catch either of La Liga’s top two. The former Manchester United winger will turn 30 in February.

Marca: Telmo Zarra beats the keeper.
Marca: Telmo Zarra beats the keeper.

Both Messi and Ronaldo have beaten Zarra’s previously held records for goals scored in a season however. The Basque striker held the record with the 38 goals he scored in 1950/51 until the Ronaldo scored 40 in 2010/11, and then Messi beat him the following season by scoring 50.

As if the Barcelona and Madrid icons needed any more fuel adding to their personal rivalry for the hearts, minds and records of the history books, Zarra’s daughter Carmen has made her preference known regarding who she thinks would be the most suitable successor to her father. And that person is Lionel Messi.

She told Catalunya Radio:

My father retired from football in 1953-54. Almost 60 years have passed since then.

Now the time has come for someone to break it. I would have liked it to have been someone from Athletic. But for sure my father would have been delighted with Messi, because he seems a very noble person on and off the pitch. He behaves himself very laudably.

I like Messi a lot more as a player and as a person [to Ronaldo], without going any further.

I am not going to say more. I like more how he behaves on the pitch. I see Messi playing and I like to follow him.

Cristiano Ronaldo gets to goal well, he has a lot of power and you must fear him, but the way I am I like Leo.

Yet there is an event greater goalscorer missing from this list. He is the striker for whom the annual award for the league’s top scorer is named after: Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, or Pichichi.

LEquipe: Alfredo Di Stefano is the currently the fifth highest league scorer in La Liga history.
LEquipe: Alfredo Di Stefano is currently the fifth highest league scorer in La Liga history.

A one club man, he too was an almost mythically prolific striker for Athletic Club, scoring 200 goals in just 170 games, or a ratio of 1.18 goals per game. That even puts Ronaldo in the shade, both in terms of his total and the rate at which he is scoring his goals.

So why isn’t Pichichi leading the way on the La Liga roll of honour? Well, unfortunately for the striker, whose nickname meant “Little Duck”, he played before the La Liga era and sadly died in 1922 at the age of 29 from a sudden attack of typhus.

His name lives on however, as does the memory of his incredible ability to find the net, thanks to the annual Pichichi award to the most prolific striker each season in Spain’s two top divisions. Athletic also keep a bust of the striker’s head at their stadium, San Mames, where teams visiting the venue for the first time traditionally pay their respects to the goalscorer by laying a bouquet of a flowers at its base.

Mark Leech: Raul scores Madrid's third goal against Valencia.
Mark Leech: Raul scores Madrid’s third goal against Valencia.

In 2012, Schalke played Athletic for the first time ever in a Europa League knock out round fixture. Having moved to the German club two seasons previously from Real, former Spain top scorer Raul was the player to walk up the steps of San Mames to continue to tradition.

Offside is the UK’s leading independent sports photography agency, home to an extensive collection of classic football pictures from the L’Equipe and Marca archives. Explore Offside’s unique library at www.welloffside.com.

Follow Offside on Twitter at @welloffside.

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Author: gregianjohnson

Football writer for The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, The Mirror, Squawka and VICE amongst others. Follow me on Twitter at @gregianjohnson.

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