Josep Guardiola had special words of praise for the player who made his Camp Nou farewell memorable after Lionel Messi scored four goals in FC Barcelona's derby defeat of RCD Espanyol on Saturday.
Almost 90,000 fans sang Guardiola's name and waved flags saying 'Thank you, Pep' during the game but it was the Argentina forward who stole the show. Messi scored twice from the penalty spot, once from a free-kick and the other was a low finish into the corner following a thrilling breakaway.
"Lionel has hogged the limelight all season, I can't be jealous," said Guardiola. "I hope that in the future he continues doing as well. For my part, I have tried to help him as much as possible and, without question, he has helped me a lot to be a high-profile coach and to improve."
Messi notched up his 50th league goal this season – five ahead of nearest rival Cristiano Ronaldo who scored a penalty as the champions Real Madrid CF won 2-1 at Granada CF to remain on course to post 100 points – when stroking in his fourth, taking his tally in all competitions this term to an astonishing 72.
After the goal, the 24-year-old ran across to embrace Guardiola on the touchline, the rest of the squad swarming around them in a huddle. "I thank him for this detail," the coach added. "I have received a lot of affection from the players throughout my time here. I love them a great deal and that always remains."
After the final Liga match of the season away to Real Betis Balompié next weekend, Guardiola will have a chance to win a 14th trophy in his fourth season, when Barça take on Athletic Club Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final in Madrid on 25 May.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Jonas scored the only goal in added time as Valencia CF defeated Villarreal CF to secure third place and automatic qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League.
Athletic were held 0-0 by Getafe CF, while fellow UEFA Europa League finalists Club Atlético de Madrid closed to within two points of fourth-placed Málaga CF by beating them 2-1. RCD Mallorca and Levante UD are a point further back after the islanders edged their meeting 1-0.
At the foot of the table, the five clubs still in danger of being relegated along with Real Racing Club will take their battle to the final day next weekend.
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|Last updated: 06/05/2012 09:12 CET|
|Venue: Palma de Mallorca|
|1||Real Madrid CF||37||94|
|8||Club Atlético de Madrid||37||50|
|12||Real Betis Balompié||37||46|
|15||Real Sociedad de Fútbol||37||44|
|17||Rayo Vallecano de Madrid||37||41|
|19||Real Sporting de Gijón||37||37|
|20||Real Racing Club||37||28|