Barcelona star Lionel Messi insisted on Monday that coach Pep Guardiola is "more important" to the Catalan club than he is, a day after taking his tally for the season to a remarkable 50 goals.
Reigning Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored five times in Barcelona's 7-1 Champions League last-16 second-leg victory over Bayer Leverkusen last Wednesday before netting both goals in the 2-0 La Liga victory at Racing Santander to leave him just three shy of his already-impressive tally for the whole of last season.
However, with uncertainty continuing to surround the future of Guardiola, who is out of contract in the summer and has not yet committed to a new deal, the Argentine sought to highlight the outstanding role played by the coach in his three-and-a-half years in charge at the Camp Nou.
"Guardiola is more important than me without doubt," Messi said. "Since he arrived at the club he has changed everything. We have won so much and for me Guardiola is a fundamental part of our project."
Messi said that the Barcelona players know just as little about the future of Guardiola as those observing matters from outside the club.
"We are just the same as everyone else, waiting for him to decide, but we want him to stay, for the good of the club, the fans and, above all, ourselves," he added.
"The club would always live on but things would be very different without him.
"It is difficult to find another coach who could do what Pep has done here.
"You look at what he was won and, more than that, the way in which he has won it.
"If Barca play as they do it is because he wants us to play that way."
Despite still being just 24, Messi has already scored 230 goals for Barcelona and is just five away from equalling the club's all-time record marksman Cesar Rodriguez.
However, Messi also sought to credit his teammates for their role in helping him become the player considered by many to already be the greatest of all time.
"Xavi and the rest of the team have a strong influence on my game. It is marvellous to be able to play alongside them. I am lucky," he said, before adding that Barcelona will not give up in their attempt to retain their domestic crown, despite trailing Liga leaders Real Madrid by ten points.
"Obviously we would like to be first. If we get the chance to close the gap, then great, but we need to keep playing as we are at the moment," he said.
"Real Madrid are very strong and it is a very difficult league, but we need to keep going one step at a time."