Barcelona: Lionel Messi has underlined the impact Pep Guardiola has made on his career over the past four years, with the Barcelona forward speaking of his admiration for the outgoing coach by saying his respect for Guardiola is unconditional.
The former midfielder will depart Camp Nou at the end of the season and was given a huge display of affection from the Barcelona players and supporters during Saturday's 4-0 win over Espanyol, which was his last match in charge at Camp Nou.
Messi admitted to Tencent Weibo that he will remain forever indebted to Guardiola for everything he has given him in football.
"Pep will always have my respect. I will always cherish him," said Messi. "He has been massively important in my career. I am grateful to all of whom I've made happy with my goals."
The Argentine also took to social networking platforms to pay tribute to Guardiola, including Twitter, where he posted a photograph of his embrace with the coach and wrote: "It has been a great pleasure to share so many moments with Pep over these last few years."
Messi's four-goal haul against Espanyol on Saturday put him on 72 goals this season in all competitions so far, and he could yet add to his record tally before the end of the campaign.
After the match, Guardiola also had special words of praise for the player who made his Camp Nou farewell memorable.
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 almost single-handedly.
"Lionel has hogged the limelight all season, I can't be jealous," 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. The World Player of the Year had said he had been too upset to go and watch his outgoing Barca 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 immediately 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."