BARCELONA, Spain, March 8 – Lionel Messi’s record five-goal haul in the 7-1 Champions League rout of Bayer Leverkusen prompted Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola to hail the Argentine master the game’s greatest talent.
Guardiola was not alone in his admiration after the defending champions sailed into the quarter-finals on a 10-2 aggregate.
Robin Dutt, the coach of the vanquished Germans, insisted that Messi made Barcelona look as if they came from “another galaxy” while England striker Wayne Rooney took to Twitter to anoint the superstar as “the best ever”.
“I am fortunate to have Messi in the team and all I can do is try and create the conditions so that he plays his best football,” said Guardiola.
“You won’t see anyone else like him. People said that Di Stefano, Maradona and Cruyff were the best when they were playing and now it is the same for Messi. He is on the throne and it is down to him how long he stays there.”
Messi bettered his previous record of four against Arsenal two seasons ago and now has 12 goals from seven Champions League matches this season after a majestic attacking performance from the World Player of the Year.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, it was always going to be a tough task for Leverkusen with Barca unbeaten in 13 European home games.
Messi struck twice before the break and then hit a further three after the restart while youngster Cristian Tello also grabbed a brace.
“This time Messi got five. Maybe the next time he will get six. These are only figures but he will always keep trying to get another goal because that is his personality,” said Guardiola.
Messi, as always, preferred the under-statement to superlatives.
“I’m happy, it’s great to score five, but the important thing tonight was the win and to qualify for the quarter-finals. Now, no matter who we meet, it’s going to be very complicated, there are only good sides left in,” he said.
“We know it’s hard for us in the Liga (10 points behind Real Madrid), but we want to defend our Champions League title and we are also keeping in our minds on the Spanish Cup.”
Dutt did not hold back in his praise for Barca and their guiding force.
“There are no words to describe this performance from them, it was extraordinary, there is no doubt,” said Dutt.
“Without Messi, they are still the best but with him they are from another galaxy.”
Barca teammate Cesc Fabregas insisted no-one should be surprised by Messi’s latest landmark.
“You can expect anything from Leo,” said Fabregas. “He is the best player in history, we have never seen anyone like him.
“He didn’t play at the weekend (Messi was suspended) and he wanted to do well. He enjoys being on the pitch and we are happy to have him.”
Rooney, whose Manchester United side failed to make the last 16, insisted he had witnessed a genius at work.
“Messi is a joke. For me, the best ever,” he tweeted.