World soccer’s governing body on Friday said that it was unable to check whether claims that an African player and not Argentina star Lionel Messi was the record holder for the most goals scored in a calendar year.
“Thanks for the questions about Godfrey Chitalu. Our official stats are limited to FIFA competitions, so we cannot verify this ‘record,’” FIFA’s communications department said on its Twitter account @fifamedia.
Barcelona forward Messi was hailed by many as the greatest player ever in the game after he scored twice on Sunday to beat the 40-year-old record of Germany’s Gerd Mueller and take his tally to 86 for this year.
However, claims emerged on Thursday that he may still in fact be well short of Zambia legend Chitalu, who netted 107 times — 49 in league matches for Kabwe Warriors and 58 in cup and internationals — between Jan. 23 and Dec. 10, 1972.
A black and white photograph of a smiling Chitalu, dressed in a suit and holding a ball inscribed with “1972 Godfrey Chitalu 107 goals” has been widely circulated on the Internet.
Yet there have also been claims that his name was raised by jealous supporters of Barca rivals Real Madrid to prevent the record going to a Barcelona player.
Zambian commentator Musonda Chibulu and fellow researcher Jerry Muchimba, who compiled their data from daily newspapers and the southern African country’s national archives, had said they would try to get Chitalu’s tally ratified by FIFA.
The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) also said it wants recognition for the player, who is considered one of the best to have played for The Copper Bullets, who are the current holders of the Africa Cup of Nations.
“Kabwe Warriors, for whom Godfrey Chitalu played, is a legendary team in our country,” FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya was quoted as saying on the BBC Sport Web site. “Their front line had Godfrey Chitalu scoring all the goals — and even for the national team, this man did a lot. So I think it would be important for people to recognize his feats.”
Chitalu died with the whole national soccer team when their airplane crashed off the coast of Gabon in 1993 on the way to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal. He was head coach at the time.
A similar challenge had already arisen on Wednesday from Brazilian club Flamengo, who insisted that their former player, Zico, scored 89 times in the 1979 season.
FIFA spokesman Alex Stone later said in e-mailed comments that none of the apparent records — whether Chitalu, Zico, Mueller or Messi — could be authenticated, given the lack of data from all of its 209 member associations.
The governing body, for example, only has statistics for its own international competitions dating back to the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay.