BARCELONA, Spain – Step aside John Cruyff. Move over Laszlo Kubala, Romario and Ronald Koeman. And, please, don't even mention Ronaldinho.
If anyone doubted who is the best scorer to don Barcelona's burgundy and blue, Lionel Messi ended the debate in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night with a hat trick to become the club's career goals leader.
Messi broke Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year-old Barcelona record, getting his eighth hat trick of the season in Tuesday night's 5-3 Spanish league win over Granada to increase his goals total to 234.
While Cesar set the mark in 13 seasons from 1942-1955, the 24-year-old Messi needed just under eight campaigns to pass his milestone.
"He is defining an era. He is the best," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdez said of his teammate.
Messi, who made his Barcelona debut in 2004, tied Cesar's record on a left-footed shot in the 17th minute for his 232nd goal, then chipped the goalkeeper for a 3-2 lead in the 67th. He added a goal from a tight angle in the 86th, increasing his season total to a career-best 54.
A three-time FIFA player of the year, Messi has 17 goals during a seven-game scoring streak and leads La Liga with 34 goals, two ahead of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
The hat trick was Messi's 18th for Barcelona and gave him 154 goals in his last 153 games over three seasons. His six hat tricks in La Liga this season tie the record set by Ronaldo last year.
Late Monday, Barcelona announced Cesar's total from 1942-55 was three fewer than the team previously said. A review by Barcelona's Center of Documentation and Studies and the La Vanguardia newspaper determined Cesar did not score goals attributed to him during the 1947-48, 1948-49, 1949-50 and 1952-53 seasons and also credited him with an additional goal in 1945-46.