Barcelona star Lionel Messi has played down the significance of Jose Mourinho’s influence in the upcoming Clasico with Real Madrid.
The 49-year-old has arguably intensified relations between the two clubs since being named as Manuel Pellegrini’s successor in the Blancos’ dugout two years ago, with recent derby encounters being embroiled in controversy.
However, the forward insists the Portuguese is only doing what is asked of him, while also praising Madrid counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo and team-mate David Villa, contradicting recent media reports that the duo had fallen out.
“He’s a good coach who does his job. So is Cristiano Ronaldo, [who is] a great player,” Messi told todo-barcelona.net. “Villa is also a great guy that nobody can be wrong about.”
He was then quizzed on the impact Tito Vilanova has made on the Catalan giants in comparison to that of Pep Guardiola, and was adamant that the former assistant would only preserve his predecessor’s legacy at Camp Nou.
“[With Tito], you will see the same Barcelona from past seasons,” he added. “Our style of play will not change because Tito thinks like Pep in this regard. There is no change.
“Pep left a mark on the history of football. He gave me the bonus of playing in different positions on the field and that’s something he did with the team.
“He changed and reinforced the philosophy of playing good football, but with the perfect balance in defence and attack.”
Santos starlet Neymar continues to be heavily linked with a move to Barca, but Messi was coy over the idea of becoming team-mates with the Brazilian, instead preferring to focus on his own game ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster.
“That’s something you should ask the coaching staff,” he conceded. “Modesty must be recognised as the number one trait in world football.
“I work everyday to reach my best, but my goal is not to be the best. I never think about my strengths and weaknesses, I prefer to ignore the critics. In football, anything is controversial.”
The striker then concluded on the topic of his career with Argentina, and while he admitted that not experiencing his native country’s football initially harmed his chances of enjoying international success, he was delighted to have won over the hearts of his compatriots.
“I think not playing in Argentina took its toll on me, but that’s life,” Messi maintained. “I give everything in every game with the national team. I want to win in this shirt and time will prove me right.
“I wear the captain’s armband with pride. It serves as a reminder that you have added responsibility, but I would not change it at all.”