Quique Setien described being appointed Barcelona coach as being beyond his "wildest dreams", calling the role the highest accolade in world football.

Setien – who left Real Betis in May 2019 – was named Barca coach in something of a surprise appointment on Monday following Ernesto Valverde's departure.

Barca great Xavi had been strongly linked with the job, though reportedly turned down the offer to succeed Valverde at this stage in the season.

And having been handed the opportunity to manage one of the world's biggest clubs, ex-Las Palmas coach Setien – who acknowledged his shock at the speed of the move – is convinced his eagerness for the job will be easy to transmit to Barca's star-studded squad, even if it will be impossible to improve on the team's past achievements.

"Without a doubt I want to thank this institution for the opportunity they've given me to come here," he said. 

"Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this. I'm someone who is very emotional and today is very special for me.

"I am excited to start with this project and that is the biggest thing I have to transmit to the players, we know we depend on the players.

"I need to transmit this desire, this enthusiasm, this will to win, this confidence that I have now and normally this is not very complicated for me to transmit it.

"We have had the first training session and everything has gone very quickly. [On Monday] I was walking around by the cows in my town and now I'm at the training ground at Barcelona coaching the best players in the world for a huge team which I'll never be able to improve upon.

"This is the highest accolade."

Thursday's defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana proved to be the final straw for Valverde, who took over at Camp Nou in 2017 and guided Barca to two LaLiga titles plus a Copa del Rey triumph.

Setien, though, lauded his predecessor's work. 

"I want to thank Ernesto. He's always seemed to be a very good person, he's always been very nice to me," the 61-year-old said. 

"I value the work he has done, how he is, his principles and many other things about him. I'm also trying to get some contact with him because there are many things from his work which are going to be very good for us.

"I want to thank him for leaving me with a side which are top of the league. You can imagine I was waiting for an opportunity. You always assume a team down at the bottom in a negative run of form.

"The work Ernesto has done and how he has left the team is something to be thankful for. It is not normal to be left with a side which are top of the league."

Josep Maria Bartomeu wasted little time in outlining his ambition for Barcelona under Quique Setien, and hopes his decision to part with Ernesto Valverde will result in a treble this season.

Valverde was sacked late Monday after a prolonged period of uncertainty following the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid last week.

Barca board members sounded out former midfielder Xavi while there were widespread reports that Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman and Massimiliano Allegri were also high on Barca's wish-list.

They instead settled on Setien, handing the former Real Betis boss a contract until 2022 - although there is a break clause in 2021 due to club elections - and Bartomeu made clear he is hoping for instant results.

Speaking at Setien's presentation on Tuesday, the Barca president said: "The dynamic of the team could be improved. We are in the next round of the Champions League and the Copa is getting started but we felt the dynamic could be improved.

"We spoke about this many times with Valverde, very openly with him and we have always been very close to Ernesto Valverde with a good relationship and have always spoken about what could be improved.

"With this momentum and with this new dynamic we aspire to win LaLiga, the Champions League and the cup." 

Bartomeu admitted Barca had spoken to other coaches but insisted the repeated links had not come from the club themselves, adding: "Over the last weeks and months we have talked with other coaches to discuss the future. It is our obligation.

"We spoke to other coaches but we did not publish this information."

Setien is a renowned disciple of former Barca player and coach - and the man credited with the club's philosophy - Johan Cruyff and took charge of training for the first time on Tuesday.

His first game at the helm will be on Sunday when Granada visit Camp Nou.

Bartomeu said: "We all know Setien is a huge fan of Johan Cruyff's style and we share the same objectives."

Barca sporting director Eric Abidal was also thrilled to have Setien on board.

The former France defender said: "To have him here is a great joy for us. He's a coach who has shown through the teams that he has had that he has great skills.

"What I like most is the communication he has with his players, his way of working, his way of coaching.

"He is always focused on details. To compete at the highest level, the details are very important, whether it's in the league, the cup or the Champions League."

Luis Suarez has thanked Ernesto Valverde and all of the former Barcelona boss' coaching staff after the Blaugrana decided to relieve him of his duties.

After days of speculation, Barca confirmed Valverde's departure on Monday, with former Real Betis coach Quique Setien coming in amid reports Xavi – in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd – had turned down the opportunity to take over at this stage in the season.

Valverde's sacking comes on the back of Barca's 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Suarez has now offered his thanks to Valverde for the work the ex-Athletic Bilbao coach did with him during his time at Camp Nou, with Barca winning consecutive LaLiga titles under his tutelage. 

"Thank you very much mister for all the moments we live as professionals," Suarez – who recently underwent surgery on a knee injury, meaning he will miss up to four months – tweeted.

"Keep the positive things you taught me and the great human being you are. Thanks to you and all your staff for the professionalism. I wish you good luck in everything that comes for the future!"

Suarez has scored 14 goals this season for Barca, who sit top of LaLiga. Setien's first match in charge will be at home against Granada on Sunday.

Quique Setien's first Barcelona away game will take place on the party island of Ibiza.

Setien, who on Monday agreed to be Ernesto Valverde's successor at Camp Nou on a deal until 2022, will take his new team to the Balearic Island in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey.

The game, which will take place next midweek, will follow Setien's first game in charge, at home to Granada on Sunday.

Real Madrid were paired with Segunda B Group 2 strugglers Unionistas Salamanca while city rivals Atletico will visit Cultural Leonesa.

Defending champions Valencia, the final team in pot one, face a potential banana skin when they go to Segunda B Group 2 table-toppers UD Logrones.

Ernesto Valverde said his goodbyes at Barcelona on Tuesday and admitted his spell at Camp Nou had occasionally been "tough and difficult".

Valverde was sacked late on Monday after two-and-a-half years in charge, during which time he led the club to back-to-back LaLiga crowns. 

Barca lead the way again this year - level on points with Real Madrid - but the club's board decided to act, with their Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid last week swiftly followed by a meeting with former midfielder Xavi, now at the helm of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Xavi is reported to have held reservations over taking charge midway through the season and, after a seemingly frantic search, Barca settled on Quique Setien as Valverde's replacement, the former Real Betis boss agreeing a deal until June 2022.

Valverde returned to the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on Tuesday to speak to his former colleagues, after which the club released a letter from the 55-year-old to supporters.

It read: "Dear Barca fans.

"My time as Barcelona coach has come to an end. It has been an intense two and a half years right from the start.

"In that time I have enjoyed some joyful moments celebrating victories and trophies but also others that have been tough and difficult. However, above all I would like to highlight my experience with the fans and the affection showed towards me during my time as coach.

"I would like to thank the president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board of directors for giving me the opportunity to coach the first team and their confidence during all this time.

"I would also like to thank all the people I have worked with at the club for their support and how they treated me during the two-and-a-half seasons, especially those who work in and around the first team and with whom I have shared so many moments at the Ciutat Esportiva and during away trips.

"Of course, I would like to thank the players for all their efforts that have allowed us to claim four trophies together. From this day, I wish them all the luck in the world and to the new coach Quique Setien also.

"All the best to everyone.

"Visca Barca and Visca Catalonia."

Setien is due to formally sign his contract at 12:30 local time before a news conference an hour later.

Barcelona top the Deloitte Money League for the first time after also becoming the only club to break the €800million mark for revenue. 

The Camp Nou club generated €840.8m during the 2018-19 season, seeing them topple bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of Deloitte's table.

Barca finished ahead of Madrid by some distance, with Los Blancos bringing in €757.3m across the course of the campaign, though that was enough to keep them second and in front of Manchester United.

The Red Devils may have underwhelmed on the pitch in recent seasons, but they remain a major financial power, with revenues reaching €711.5m.

United are one of eight Premier League clubs in the top 20, with Manchester City (fifth), Liverpool (seventh), Tottenham (eighth), Chelsea (ninth), Arsenal (11th), West Ham (18th) and Everton (19th) joining them.

However, United could potentially slip next year due to a lack of Champions League action this term, with Bayern Munich (€660.1m) and Paris Saint-Germain (€635.9m) the biggest threats to knocking them out of the top three.

Deloitte also understand United are at risk of losing their status as the Premier League's highest revenue-generating club for the first time next year, with City and Liverpool very much on the rise.

Napoli and Lyon are the only new entrants to the top 20.

Given he delivered back-to-back LaLiga titles and left Barcelona still at the summit, Ernesto Valverde's departure appears perplexing on the surface.

There has been no great decline to speak of, no obvious player revolt and no boardroom bickering.

Why then have the Blaugrana opted to part ways with their head coach and replace him with Quique Setien, a man who could only lead Real Betis to a 10th-place finish last term?

We have taken a look at the five games which might have ultimately resulted in Valverde's exit.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona. Champions League quarter-final second leg. April 10, 2018.

After being beaten in both legs of the Supercopa de Espana by Real Madrid to begin his reign, things picked up for Valverde, who enjoyed a 36-match unbeaten run at the beginning of the 2017-18 LaLiga campaign.

However, two and a half weeks before that title triumph was sealed, Barcelona were stunned in Europe.

Valverde's side were in control of the tie having beaten the Serie A side 4-1 at home, but Roma became only the third side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg deficit of three goals or more.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas scored the crucial third goal eight minutes from time as Roma went through on away goals and Valverde suffered his first, but not last, European humiliation.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona. Champions League semi-final second leg. May 7, 2019.

Fast forward a year and a case of deja vu, with Barca sitting pretty on a 3-0 first-leg lead in their last-four tie against Liverpool.

The Reds were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the return fixture at Anfield, where Divock Origi's early goal only gave them a sliver of hope.

Yet Barca looked shell-shocked as Georginio Wijnaldum's double was followed up by another Origi strike, Liverpool incredibly progressing to a final they would win.

Described in the Spanish press as a "debacle", "tragedy" and "historic failure", the writing seemed to be on the wall for Valverde from that point.

Barcelona 1-2 Valencia. Copa del Rey final. May 25, 2019. 

Not even a second LaLiga title could silence Valverde's doubters, who had more ammo when his team lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Valverde had hoped a victory would ease the pain of the Liverpool loss but Barca were stunned again, Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo putting Valencia 2-0 ahead before Lionel Messi pulled one back.

Rather than wield the axe, though, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu absolved Valverde of blame for the result.

 

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona. LaLiga. January 4, 2020.

Away defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante would have looked costlier had the champions' nearest rivals Real Madrid not stumbled along themselves in the first half of this season.

Both teams' struggles were evident in a 0-0 Clasico draw at Camp Nou in December, but it was Barcelona's first result back after the mid-season break that would have set more alarm bells ringing.

Derby rivals Espanyol were bottom of the table and had not beaten Barca in LaLiga since 2009 but Frenkie de Jong was sent off as the strugglers claimed a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona 2-3 Atletico Madrid. Supercopa de Espana semi-final. January 9, 2020.

Five days later and it got even worse for Valverde and Barcelona.

Leading 2-1 in Saudi Arabia with nine minutes to go, the Blaugrana collapsed again late on, with Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sending Atletico through to a final against their cross-city rivals Madrid.

It meant Barcelona had won just one of their previous five games, a sour note to end on for Valverde.

Barcelona are looking for a new head coach after sacking Ernesto Valverde - the man who led them to back-to-back LaLiga titles.

Valverde departs Camp Nou with the Blaugrana top of the table after 19 games in 2019-20, too.

Given his success with Barca, it seems a harsh decision, but do the numbers back that up?

With the help of Opta, we take a look at Valverde's two-and-a-half-year Barca reign.

 

69.5 per cent - Valverde took charge of 95 LaLiga games as Barca boss, winning 66 of those, drawing 22 and losing just seven. That 69.5 per cent win ratio is the fifth best return in the club's history, with Tito Vilanova way out in front with 92.10 per cent.

97 - Valverde, 55, will be disappointed he did not reach a landmark at Barcelona, with whom he was only three wins shy of 100 in all competitions.

36 - It started so well for Valverde too as the team were unbeaten in his first 36 LaLiga games, which remains the longest sequence for a new boss in the league's history. They won 27 of those fixtures.

43 - That long streak added to the final seven games of Luis Enrique's time in charge, when Barcelona were also unbeaten, giving them a LaLiga record 43-match unbeaten run.

4 - Valverde delivered four titles to the Camp Nou trophy cabinet - two LaLiga titles (2017-18 and 2018-19), the 2018 Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana.

213 - Former Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Villarreal boss Valverde has won 213 LaLiga games in his career, the fifth most of all time. Luis Aragones (344) is the leader in that particular category.

9 - Beating Real Madrid is a sure-fire way to win over the sceptics and Valverde has toasted nine victories over Los Blancos this century. No manager has managed more in the 21st century (level with Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone).

0-3 and 0-4 - Valverde's inability to deliver Champions League success is believed to be behind the decision to sack him, though. Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 and Liverpool 3-0 in the home first legs of knockout ties during the previous two seasons, but they went out on both occasions as the Giallorossi beat them 3-0 and the Reds 4-0.

112 - Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi has been the most productive attacking player under Valverde, scoring 112 times and providing 46 assists for 158 goal involvements. Messi was involved in 47.9 per cent of Barcelona's 238 LaLiga goals under Valverde.

123 - However, it was not Messi who was handed the most starts by Valverde. With 109 appearances from the off, he is only fifth on the list, behind Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique, who accumulated 123 starts.

Barcelona have confirmed the departure of head coach Ernesto Valverde and placed Quique Setien in charge.

Valverde was pictured overseeing training on Monday ahead of meeting with Barca's board.

Following the conclusion of those discussions, Barca announced the end of Valverde's two-and-a-half-year stint in charge at Camp Nou, with former Real Betis boss Setien replacing him on a contract until June 2022.

"FC Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde have reached an agreement to terminate the contract that united both parties," the statement announcing Valverde's departure read.

"The club publicly expresses its gratitude to Ernesto Valverde for his professionalism, his commitment, his dedication and his always positive treatment towards all that make up the Barca family. We wish him luck and success in the future."

Setien replaces Valverde despite the fact Barca are top of LaLiga and still in the Champions League. They have been crowned league champions in each of the past two seasons.

However, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has often found his position under scrutiny, particularly after Barca surrendered a 3-0 first-leg lead in the Champions League semi-finals against Liverpool last season.

The 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday further cranked up the pressure, with Barca losing to Diego Simeone's men despite having largely controlled the contest.

Barca legend Xavi was said to be among the frontrunners to take the reins, the 2010 World Cup winner having met director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

However, Xavi is reported to have told the club he was not interested in taking over until the end of the season.

Setien will be presented at 14:30 local time (13:30 GMT) on Tuesday before his first game against Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Arguably the most surprising factor around Ernesto Valverde's exit at Barcelona is the distinct lack of surprise.

Since replacing Luis Enrique at Camp Nou in May 2017, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has won four major honours and claimed victory in 66 of his 95 LaLiga games.

And yet there has been an ever-present grumble in the background. Whether it be grievances over his style of play or somewhat more legitimate concerns over big collapses to Roma and Liverpool in the Champions League in the previous two campaigns, the rumblings of discontent have never been too far away. 

Still, his departure – which came after a 3-2 defeat in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals to Atletico Madrid – seems a little harsh, and we look at five reasons Valverde, who has been replaced by Quique Setien, might feel he has been treated unfairly.

 

HE'S A TWO-TIME LALIGA WINNER

What seems harshest of all is that, despite frequent talk of a "crisis", Valverde steered Barca to LaLiga glory in each of his two full seasons in charge. Indeed, the Blaugrana were beaten just once as they cantered to the trophy in the 2017-18 campaign. The more sceptical of pundits may point to the fact that last season their great Clasico rivals Real Madrid endured a poor campaign, losing 12 times and finishing 19 points adrift. But still, while Champions League success eluded him, in LaLiga Barca have continued to dominate. Throw in a Copa del Rey and a Supercopa de Espana and the trophy return has remained healthy.

THEY'RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE

Okay, so if we're being honest, Barca have not been anywhere their best this term – particularly in defence where the 23 goals they have conceded is 11 more than Madrid and Atletico. But as things stand Barca are top of LaLiga, albeit only by goal difference from Madrid. Three defeats and four draws from 19 matches may not make for great reading for a club that has been so utterly dominant domestically, but they remain top of the pile.

MESSI IS A BALLON D'OR WINNER AGAIN

Granted, the caveat here is you could argue Messi doesn't really need to win football's most prestigious individual prize to lay his claims as the greatest player on the planet. But the fact remains he failed to win the previous three Ballons d'Or before beating Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk in 2019. Under Valverde, Messi has been at his majestic best, with the Argentina superstar scoring a remarkable 83 goals in 84 LaLiga games. While others from Barca's golden era are perceived to be on the decline, Messi has continued to wow the football world.

BARCA'S RECRUITMENT HAS BEEN…QUESTIONABLE

Valverde may be coach of the team and will probably have some say when it comes to the direction the club goes in with signings, but as is the way with modern football, others are in charge of recruitment. Chief executive Oscar Grau and sporting director Eric Abidal are ultimately responsible on that front, although it was Pep Segura prior to the former France international. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeison Murillo have been among the more head-scratcher signings, while Malcom was snatched from under the noses of Roma but proved a complete flop. Philippe Coutinho underwhelmed after his big-money arrival from Liverpool and was shipped out on loan to Bayern Munich, while Ousmane Dembele has been hit-and-miss at best. Arturo Vidal has had his moments, Yerry Mina mainly disappointed but at least brought in a big fee and Jean-Clair Todibo has rarely featured despite showing promise. Antoine Griezmann's arrival was met with fanfare but the France international has been nowhere near the standard he showed at rivals Atletico.

AGING STARS ON THE DECLINE

With the exception of Messi, who at 32 is like the proverbial bottle of fine wine and getting better with age, you can argue Valverde is getting the best from a crop of players who are no longer at the height of their powers. Centre-back Gerard Pique has been out of form, Luis Suarez remains an undoubted talent but perhaps not at the same level as he was in the treble-winning days of Luis Enrique, while Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets are also in their 30s. To point the finger solely at Valverde is slightly ludicrous. 

Ernesto Valverde has taken Barcelona training amid widespread reports he will meet with the club's board later on Monday.

Despite his side sitting top of LaLiga, the Barcelona head coach is under intense pressure, scrutiny which increased after last week's 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final in Saudi Arabia.

Valverde was pictured taking training as reports in Spain suggested he could lose his position depending on the outcome of talks with the Barca hierarchy.

Barca great Andres Iniesta made an appearance at the session shortly after telling reporters the saga around Valverde had become "ugly", urging respect for his former boss who he felt had seen his position "weakened" by the constant speculation.

Iniesta's former team-mate Xavi, now head coach of Al Sadd, met with the Camp Nou side's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday.

But while conceding coaching Barca was his "dream", he did not divulge what was discussed and reiterated his respect for Valverde when he faced reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan.

Reports on Sunday then suggested Xavi had turned down the chance to take charge of Barca immediately.

Ronald Koeman, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino are the other leading contenders to replace Valverde if the former Athletic Bilbao boss is removed from his role.

While managing Tottenham, Pochettino had insisted he would never contemplate taking charge of Barca due to his ties to his old team Espanyol, though reports claim the five-time European champions are still keen to make an approach.

Valverde took charge in 2017 and won two league titles, the Copa del Rey and a Supercopa crown over his first two seasons.

Barca are due to train on Tuesday before a day off on Wednesday and will next be in action with a Sunday home league contest against Granada.

Andres Iniesta has urged Barcelona to show more respect to head coach Ernesto Valverde following "ugly" reports they are attempting to line up club legend Xavi as his replacement.

Barca are on course for a third successive LaLiga title and remain in the Champions League, but Valverde is under increasing pressure.

Following the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, reports of the board's apparent frustrations with Valverde have escalated.

Strong speculation has claimed club directors used the trip to Saudi Arabia to open talks with Xavi regarding the possibility of replacing Valverde, but the 39-year-old – who is in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd – is said to have told them he is only willing to take over at the end of the season.

Barca have not confirmed the stories, but they do not sit easy with Iniesta, who spent a season playing under Valverde at Camp Nou.

"What comes to my mind a little, if all this is so, is that the way everything is being done is a bit ugly," he told Onda Cero.

"I think that there should always be respect for the coach. The boss' situation and position has been left very weakened.

"My relationship with the boss is very good. During the year we have been talking sometimes. Really, beyond whether we like the coach or not, I think the situation is not pleasant for anyone: the coach, the team or the fans."

Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino have been mentioned as potential alternatives to Xavi if he decides he is not ready to return to Barca.

But Iniesta opted against outright backing anyone, suggesting Xavi and Koeman have positives and drawbacks.

"There is a case for everyone," Iniesta added. "In the case of Pep Guardiola, who was at Barca B and then he took over the first team, the one who knows [the team and club] best is Xavi.

"He will have analysed all the variables that there can be and let's see what happens, but Koeman has a lot of experience as a coach and Xavi is starting out now.

"But a lot of times, experience counts for nothing. Both of them have been at Barca and know the club."

Barcelona appear ready to turn to their next coaching target as the LaLiga giants eye Mauricio Pochettino.

Ernesto Valverde is under enormous pressure after the Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid, but Xavi has reportedly turned down the job – for now.

Amid contrasting reports over Barca's next decision, they may be lining up a move for Pochettino.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONTACT POCHETTINO OVER COACHING JOB

Barcelona contacted former Tottenham manager Pochettino to be their next boss, according to RAC1.

It comes as widespread reports in Spain say Al Sadd boss and former Barcelona star Xavi turned down the position.

Meanwhile, Catalunya Radio reported Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman also rejected the opportunity.

After a meeting on Sunday, Barca decided to stick with Valverde for now, according to Sport.

ROUND-UP

- Amid reports Manchester United had agreed to terms with Bruno Fernandes, the Mirror says the Premier League club are set to bid £65million (€76.1m) for the Sporting CP midfielder this week.

- Tottenham are set to sign Benfica's Gedson Fernandes as further details about a possible move emerge. Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano reports Spurs will sign the Portugal international on loan with an option to buy for between £42.7m (€50m) and £51.2m (€60m) in 2021.

- Jerome Boateng continues to be linked with a Bayern Munich exit. Milan are ready to challenge Arsenal for the defender, according to Sky Germany.

- Coming out of contract at season's end, it appears Layvin Kurzawa's future is away from Paris Saint-Germain. L'Equipe reports the left-back – who has made just five Ligue 1 starts this campaign – recently rejected Inter but the Serie A club remain hopeful of signing the 27-year-old this month.

- Juventus are looking to the future. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A champions are keeping an eye on teenage Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and AZ forward Calvin Stengs.

Sergio Aguero's phenomenal goalscoring exploits for Manchester City make him one of the best in world football, but Pep Guardiola maintains Lionel Messi still stands apart.

Aguero fired a hat-trick in City's 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa on Sunday, replacing Thierry Henry as the most prolific overseas player in Premier League history.

A 12th treble in the competition represents a new all-time best mark, edging City's record goalscorer ahead of Alan Shearer.

Asked afterwards whether Aguero was the best he has worked with, City manager Guardiola felt compelled to highlight his alliance with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi at Barcelona.

"The best is Messi," he smiled, before a follow-up enquiry pondered whether Aguero was the finest out-and-out striker he had handled in his decorated career.

Guardiola added: "Messi is [the best] number nine, number 10, number 11, number seven, number six, number five, number four…

"But Sergio, [among] the rest, he is certainly one of them. I said many times, he will die scoring goals. It is his talent."

It has proved a tempestuous few days at Barcelona, with club great Xavi reportedly turning down the chance to replace the under-fire Ernesto Valverde.

Guardiola expressed sympathy with the former Athletic Bilbao boss, who has won LaLiga in each of his two full seasons in charge, with the Blaugrana joint-top this time around.

"Barcelona is a special place, because wining the league is not enough," he said.

"I am so sorry for Ernesto. I think he doesn't deserve that.

"Hopefully we can solve it soon, as an associate of this club."

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