Players at Lionel Messi's level born once every 50 years - Antonio Conte
BARCELONA -- Antonio Conte hailed Lionel Messi as the kind of player born once every 50 years after the Barcelona superstar's virtuoso performance eliminated Chelsea from the Champions League at Camp Nou.
Messi scored twice to take his tally to 100 goals in the competition and also set up Ousmane Dembele to open his Barcelona account, as Chelsea were made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness in the final third as well as defensive mistakes.
At the final whistle Conte marched onto the pitch to congratulate Messi on his display, and the Chelsea coach had more kind words for the Argentine in his postmatch news conference.
"We are talking about a player who can move the final result for every team, for any team he is playing in," Conte said of Messi. "He started to play with Barcelona and for sure he will finish his career in Barcelona. Many teams can hope to have him in their team, but it won't be possible.
"This is a great story for Barcelona and Messi. This type of player is born [once] in 50 years. We are talking about one single player with this capacity, with this ability, with these skills.
"He's fantastic. We are talking about a player who is able to move the final result for the team for whom he is playing."
Asked what he said to Messi, Conte replied: "When you have the opportunity to make a great compliment to Messi, I think it's right.
"It's right to praise a super, super, super top player. A player who is able to score 60 goals in every season, not only for one season. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity at the end of the game to give him my compliments because we are talking about an extraordinary player, the best in the world."
Chelsea created a host of chances to change the course of the tie, hitting the post with a Marcos Alonso free kick in the first half and seeing Antonio Rudiger's header crash off the crossbar late on, and Conte insisted that the 4-1 aggregate scoreline did not reflect his team's performances across the two matches.
"If you watched the game, you can see the final result is unfair," he added. "Our start was terrible, to concede a goal after only two minutes. But, after this, we tried to play football for a long time and dominated the game, creating chances to score.
"Over the two legs, we hit the post [or crossbar] four times. This is very strange. I think that a fantastic player moved the final result and the qualification. In these two legs, Messi moved the final result. He scored three goals. He made a decisive pass for Dembele to score.
"It's a pity. But, at the same time, I must be honest. I have to praise the commitment of my players. I must be very proud of my players because they gave everything. We have to continue in this way, with this will to fight, this desire to fight together."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.