Guardiola forgives Messi for stealing the limelight

By Mark Elkington

MADRID, May 6 (Reuters) - Pep Guardiola had special words of praise for the player who made his Nou Camp farewell memorable after Lionel Messi scored four goals in Barcelona's rout of Espanyol in the city derby on Saturday.

About 89,000 fans sang Guardiola's name and waved flags saying 'Thank you, Pep' during the game but it was the diminutive Argentine who put the icing on the cake to win a La Liga match with little riding on it 4-0 almost single-handedly.

"Lionel has hogged the limelight all season, I can't be jealous," outgoing Barca coach Guardiola told reporters when asked if Messi's performance had overshadowed his farewell.

"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, moving five ahead of his nearest rival Cristiano Ronaldo with one match to play, and took his tally in all competitions this term to an astonishing 72.

The World Player of the Year had said he had been too upset to go and watch his coach give the news conference where he said he was leaving the club a week ago, but repaid Guardiola in his own way on Saturday.

After scoring his fourth, he 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," Guardiola 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."

Guardiola has one more away game in La Liga as boss, and a chance to win a 14th trophy in his fourth season, when Barca take on Athletic Bilbao in the King's Cup final in Madrid on May 25.

His close friend and assistant Tito Vilanova will replace him next season, with Guardiola saying he needed time out to recharge his batteries.

Barca president Sandro Rosell left the door open for the club's most successful coach to return when he liked.

"Everyone loves Pep, and wants him to return," Rosell told reporters. "He has left in style, and will return in style, whenever he wants.

"The Nou Camp has been a clamour. It has been fantastic." (Reporting by Mark Elkington, editing by Ken Ferris)


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