Barcelona: Barcelona coach Luis Enrique paid tribute to Lionel Messi on Wednesday for his evolution into a "total footballer" throughout his career, which he believes will help the five-time World Player of the Year maintain his quality long into the future.
The Spanish champions are confident their all-time top scorer Messi will sign a new contract until 2022 in the near future, which would tie him to the club until he is 35, with sporting director Robert Fernandez saying on Tuesday that negotiations on the new deal were "going very well".
"Messi's footballing evolution is beyond any doubt, and the process happened because of his maturity. Before he was almost our only goalscorer but he's evolved into a total footballer," Luis Enrique told a news conference on Wednesday ahead of Barca's King's Cup quarterfinal second leg with Real Sociedad.
"He's capable of doing anything in attack or defence, as he's a very intelligent player he will compensate for any possible weaknesses he may end up experiencing in a very far away future when his physical condition declines."
Messi has scored more than 30 league goals in five of the 12 full seasons he has played for Barca, hitting a La Liga record of 50 in the 2011-12 season, and despite taking up a deeper role in the last two years to accommodate strike partners Neymar and Luis Suarez, he has netted 15 times this season in the league.
"With the type of player he is he doesn't need much strength because he's able to play with one or two touches, he knows where to run to receive the ball and how to play without the ball and vary his position," added Luis Enrique.
"When you add all that with the technical and physical qualities he has then you get the player we see every day, which is a unique player."
Barca host Sociedad on Thursday with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg after beating the Basques away from home last week for the first time since 2007, although they will be without midfielders Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta through injury.
"It would be an error to think we've already got the job done. Against an opponent of this magnitude, it's a very dangerous game," added Luis Enrique, whose side are looking to book their place in the Cup semifinals for a seventh consecutive year.
"The players are aware of that and so are our fans. We've always struggled to beat Real Sociedad, especially away, and they will make things complicated for us. After the first leg they have nothing to lose."