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May 16, 2013

Messi bemoans Vilanova absence

Leo Messi says Tito Vilanova's absence through illness affected Barcelona's campaign this term, but he is happy it has ended on a winning note.

• Blog: Evolution, not revolution

Barca recovered quickly from the shock of Pep Guardiola leaving last summer to led the Primera Division from start to finish this season, but performances suffered in the spring when head coach Vilanova was in New York receiving cancer treatment and assistant Jordi Roura sat on the Camp Nou bench.

Messi told Mexican channel TV Azteca that reclaiming the La Liga title made him very happy, but things had not always been so upbeat during the season at the Camp Nou.

"It gave me a lot of joy," Messi said. "La Liga is very important, with Real Madrid, one of the best teams in the world. The truth is it was not very easy as we were coming from a change, with Guardiola's goodbye.

"When Tito came we felt well, because practically nothing changed. But when he left we noticed the change, not because Roura or the people who stayed could not do it, but because we were missing our head coach, the one who talked to us from the first day... It was not the same. The season is very long and to finish it celebrating is very nice."

Barca's most painful on-pitch moment of the season was the 7-0 aggregate exit to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals. Messi said such a heavy defeat suggested that opponents had learned how to play against his side, but they did not necessarily need to throw out an approach to football which had worked so well in the past.

"You cannot always win," he said. "For years we have been playing the same way and coaches and opponents study you. But we cannot go crazy just for what happened this year. We cannot change Barcelona's style because it is what has always characterised us. We must be relaxed and think already about next year."

The Argentina national captain, who turns 26 next month, looks set to miss Barca's last three La Liga games with a hamstring injury, but may return in time to play in his country's World Cup qualifiers at home to Colombia and away in Ecuador in early June.

He again did not rule out finishing his career back at home, but said that after so many years in Catalonia he was currently happy to stay where he was.

"Today I am only thinking about staying at Barcelona until the end," Messi said. "I would like to play in Argentina, as I have said before, but in Europe I would not play for another team.

"People often say Barcelona is more than a club. When I arrived as a kid I grew not just as a player, but as a person, which is even more important. I arrived aged 13, I grew and my life has been spent more here than in Argentina. I grew up learning the values that Barcelona passes on."

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