MADRID (Reuters) - One of Lionel Messi's key strengths is that his approach to the game is the same now as it was when he was a teenager, his Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said of the record-breaking Argentine on Tuesday.
Now aged 25 and voted World Player of the Year the past three years, Messi set a record for the most goals scored in a calendar year of 86 on Sunday, surpassing the previous best of 85 set by German Gerd Mueller in 1972.
"Messi's great virtue is that he is still playing now as a professional the same way he did as a youth player," Vilanova, who coached Messi when he was in Barca's academy, told a news conference previewing Wednesday's King's Cup last-16 first leg game at second division Cordoba.
"His career, what he has achieved, nobody could have predicted it," Vilanova added.
"I loved and enjoyed watching him play back then and now at this age too. I hope it continues for a good deal longer."
Messi can add to his 2012 goals tally in the Cup game at Cordoba and Barca have another two La Liga games, at home to Atletico Madrid and away at Real Valladolid, before the end of the year.
He is likely to smash plenty more scoring records before the end of his career and with 192 goals is already Barca's all-time leading scorer in La Liga and ninth overall behind top marksman and former Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra on 251.
Top scorer in the Champions League the past four seasons, Messi has 56 goals in Europe's elite club competition, joint-second with former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and 15 behind former Real Madrid forward Raul.
He also has Gabriel Batistuta's record haul of 56 goals for Argentina in his sights, having already scored 31 for his country.
Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Julien Pretot