Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde admitted the brilliance of Lionel Messi transcends club rivalries after the Argentina superstar received a standing ovation from Real Betis fans.
Messi scored three superb goals to record his 51st career hat-trick in a 4-1 win that helped Barca open up a 10-point lead at the top of LaLiga.
After Messi’s final strike, a brilliant chip from the edge of the box which went in off the underside of the bar, the home fans at the Benito Villamarin Stadium rose as one to hail the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Valverde said that showed the standing Messi – who also hit the post late on – has in the game.
The Barca boss told Movistar Partidazo after the game: “Leo’s match has been extraordinary. He scored three goals and could have scored a fourth.
“It’s evidence of the player he is. Despite the opposition being on the receiving end, we are all enjoying this era of his, which is unequalled.
“It’s significant that they cheer him, it’s an acknowledgement.”
Messi admits he cannot recall ever receiving such a reception from rival fans and thanked the Betis supporters.
He said: “To be honest no, I don’t remember the opposition fans giving me an ovation for a goal. I’m very grateful for the response from the fans.
“We’re always treated very well when we come to this stadium. I’m very grateful and happy for the win, which was very important.”
Messi opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick before linking up well with Luis Suarez to make it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.
Suarez, who will go for tests on an ankle injury on Monday, scored a fine individual third for Barca before Betis pulled a goal back through Loren.
The night belonged to Messi, though, and the 31-year-old completed yet another memorable hat-trick with a pinpoint lob late on.
Rather than take all the plaudits for himself, Messi was quick to praise the tactics of Valverde and the importance of the three points as treble-chasing Barca stretched their lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Messi said: “They were great goals, but the important thing was getting the three points.
“It was a very good opportunity to increase the gap, we knew the result from Atletico and we couldn’t slip up.
“The boss read the game very well, tactically it was perfect and we didn’t suffer, just the opposite.”