Lionel Messi has been hailed as the greatest player ever by his Barcelona colleagues after breaking the all-time La Liga scoring record.
The Argentine star ended a three-game barren sequence in the league by firing a brilliant hat-trick in his team’s demolition of Sevilla on Saturday night, taking his career tally to 253 and overtaking the previous record of 251 held by Telmo Zarra.
Messi’s popularity within the dressing room was evident from the warmth of the congratulations he received from his team-mates when he broke the record, and after the game Barca’s stars lined up to pay their tributes to the 27-year-old.
Manager Luis Enrique was first in line, saying Messi’s brilliance eclipses the talents of even his greatest former Barca team-mates such as Brazilian stars Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo.
“I’ve been saying for years now there is no other player like him,” said Enrique. “There is no-one who can touch him.
“I’m lucky to be able to train him every day. You can’t compare him to any other player. He is one of a kind and there will never be another like him.
“We are fortunate to be able to enjoy watching him and I think he will leave the record unreachable for anyone else.”
Enrique also believes that Messi’s record is even more remarkable for the fact that he achieved it in a completely different era from previous holder Zarra, who played for Athletic Bilbao in the 1940s and 50s, a period when high scorelines were commonplace.
“I never imagined that anyone would beat the Zarra record, which was set in an age when there were more forwards than defenders,” Enrique pointed out.
“At the level the game is played now, not just physically but also considering how well-prepared opposition defences are, a record like this is tremendous.”
Stars such as Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Neymar – who provided the assist for the record-breaking goal – were also quick to send messages of congratulations through their personal social media channels, with Iniesta summing up the awestruck response of his team-mates as he enthused: “You’re unique, there are no adjectives!”
The only negative note of the evening came when Barca unwisely decided to include unpopular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu in a video tribute to Messi which was played on Nou Camp’s big screens after the game.
A chorus of jeers and whistles rang around the stadium as soon as Bartomeu’s face appeared on the screens, but the undeterred president took the opportunity to insist speculation that Messi is considering leaving the Nou Camp is well wide of the mark.
“Leo wants to stay,” said Bartomeu, who also suggested he believes a conspiracy theory lies behind the rumours of Messi leaving. “Barcelona and Catalonia sees him as the best player in history and it is elsewhere where people talk about things I personally don’t like.