By PA Sport

Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have finished 2016 with 50 goals apiece, but an ex-Manchester United trainee in the sixth tier of English football had that total with a month to spare.

Coasters frontman Danny Rowe finished the calendar year with 55 goals, 35 of which have come this season, and his haul of 32 in the National League North is equal to or greater than that of seven clubs in the division.

At 27, those not familiar with Rowe’s story would consider him a late bloomer, but the striker has been prolific ever since he first played.

“Anyone that’s played with me will always say the best part of my game is finishing,” Rowe told Press Association Sport.

“I’m working on it all the time but I believe it’s an ability that I just have rather than something that I wasn’t good at and worked on. I’ve always been good at it since I was a kid.

“At 10, 11, around Blackpool, I’d set all local records – in a season I’d scored 100-odd in a year. I was always a good finisher and that has carried on now.”

Such a glut naturally attracted the interest of the region’s professional clubs. First it was Preston and then, at the age of 12, Manchester United brought him into their academy in 2001 for a compensatory amount a tribunal determined could reach a staggering six-figure sum.

He would play alongside future internationals such as Tom Cleverley and James Chester in his teens and the one-time Blackburn supporter became a United fan in the process. Then, at 16, he was released.

“Obviously it was hard,” Rowe admitted. “I supported them and then you’re being let go and in my eyes it was the biggest club in the world, still is.

“You don’t really know what to do from there. When you’re growing up, all the local kids are looking at you saying, ‘There’s that lad from United’. Then you see them again and it’s not the same. Everyone’s always asking you, ‘What happened?’.”

What had happened was Rowe had lost his appetite for a sport he had made look so easy.

“I’d kind of fallen out of love with the game at the time,” he revealed.

“I’d lost a bit of interest while I was there, which they knew about; that was one of the reasons I ended up being released.

“When I did leave I’d lost interest altogether. I didn’t really want to carry on and I just ended up playing with my mates at Blackpool Wren Rovers.”

From, in his own words, “the biggest club in the world”, Rowe had come full circle and was now back on the local scene at the 11th level of English football.

Three years with Rovers preceded non-league spells at Fleetwood and Lincoln, before he joined the ambitious Fylde in 2014.

He was a team-mate of Jamie Vardy’s at Fleetwood and played against Burnley’s Andre Gray, then with Luton, and has seen both go on to make their mark in the Premier League.

“He’s done unbelievably for himself, which is every credit to him,” Rowe added of Vardy.

“You want to play as high as you can and be as good as you can and he’s done it to an unbelievable level.”

Now full-time himself with the Coasters, who have a nine-point lead at the top of the National League North, Rowe has already scored a century of goals for the club and hopes to one day fulfil his ambition of playing in the Football League.

His more immediate concern is to continue his form, even if his primary target was achieved before most had completed their Christmas shopping.

“My target, like every season, was 30 league goals,” said Rowe, who has scored six hat-tricks this term.

“I’ve passed that and I just want to keep going, see how far I can get.”