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Sometimes it can be hard for non-fans to realize just how good a superstar is. When I was 10 or 11 in the early 90s, I had heard of Micheal Jordan -- everyone had heard of Michael Jordan -- but I wasn't much of a basketball fan. My older brother joined a fantasy basketball league, and since I was the computer guy in the family he asked me to make a spreadsheet designed to help with the draft. We put in all the stats from the prior year and calculated how many fantasy points each player would have gotten. It was only when I sorted the chart and saw how much of an outlier MJ was I realized why he was such a big deal.

The corollary of that argument is that it's also hard for statisticians to disentangle individual brilliance from being the focal point of a team whose other parts are also massively better than their average opponent.

Of course, you have to be a truly exceptional player for Barcelona to build their team around you for several years, but I still doubt Messi stats would stand out quite so far above other top European forwards if he'd been, say, a winger for 2010-14 Liverpool instead.

It would be interesting to see how well the statistical advantages for Messi and Ronaldo hold up in matches which are relatively even contests (internationals, late stage Champions League and El Clasico) as opposed to their clubs' routine thrashings of weaker La Liga teams. I'd expect the goals (and shooting efficiency) to remain high but some of the other advantages might not be quite so evident. The article does cover his goals and assists contribution for his recent World Cup performances, but that's one stat and an acknowledged small sample.

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