Ronald Koeman hailed Lionel Messi as the most important player in Barcelona’s illustrious history after he struck twice on his record-equalling 767th club appearance.
The 33-year-old scored his side’s first and fourth goals as Barça climbed into second place in the table following a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Huesca in La Liga. Messi matched Xavi’s all-time appearance record in the Barcelona shirt, a career which includes winning 34 trophies and now scoring 661 goals since he made his debut in 2004, with 27 so far this season.
“I cannot say more about Leo,” Koeman told a press conference. “The level he has for many years, many games. He has equalled Xavi and on Sunday in principle he will surpass him. He is the most important man in the history of Barca. Luckily he is still with us.”
Messi put Barcelona ahead in the 13th minute before Antoine Griezmann doubled the hosts’ tally 11 minutes from half-time. In the final moments of the first half, Huesca were awarded a penalty on VAR review for a foul on Rafa Mir, who also dispatched the spot-kick to halve Barcelona’s advantage.
Messi then turned provider for Barcelona’s third which Óscar Mingueza headed home for his maiden club goal and the Argentinian completed the scoring at the death.
Koeman added: “I think he’s shown he’s the best player in the world. The first goal he scored was fantastic, and he deserves to be the focal point of this team. The team is confident. We cannot lose more points because we have already lost quite a few.”
The result moved the Catalans to within four points of top spot as they chase down pace-setters Atlético Madrid.
Teenager Pedri, who was called up to the Spain national team for the first time earlier on Monday, also praised Messi.
“To play alongside Leo is an absolute joy. I enjoy going to training everyday,” said the 18-year-old. “Whenever I get it, I try and pass to him because every time he touches the ball, something happens. It’s absolutely crazy what he’s achieving. He’s the best player in the world.”