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Barcelona have best player in history inspiring us, warns Rakitic


Role model: Ivan Rakitic takes his lead from Lionel Messi
Role model: Ivan Rakitic takes his lead from Lionel Messi

By Carl Markham

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic admits his men are inspired to follow wherever Lionel Messi leads as he is "the best player in history".

Coach Ernesto Valverde sounded a note of caution by conceding Champions League semi-final opponents Liverpool are a "fearsome rival", but Rakitic suggested having Messi on their side trumped that considerably.

The Argentinian has been judiciously rested over the last few weeks as, with a healthy lead, they were able to coast to an eighth La Liga title in 11 years at the weekend, and Valverde has had one eye on Europe.

Messi has still had to come up with decisive moments - he came off the bench to score the winner which won the title against Levante - and that gives his team-mates a boost.

"Whenever our captain says something, the rest of us are there to follow in his footsteps," said Croatia midfielder Rakitic.

"Leo has been a league champion in 10 of the last 15 years and seeing how he lifts the title with extreme happiness, that engages everyone.

"If he is happy to win every title and win every game, what can you say about the rest of us? We are even more eager if possible.

"Being able to follow the best player in history gives us a lot of confidence.

"How many Champions Leagues does Leo have? He already has won four and I don't think he's going to get too nervous about tomorrow. Leo is ahead of us and we follow him."

• Former Manchester United defender John O'Shea will retire after the final match of the Sky Bet Championship season on Sunday, his club Reading have announced.

The 38-year-old's decision was announced on his birthday as the five-time Premier League winner prepares to bring down the curtain on a playing career spanning almost two decades.

The Royals host Birmingham on Sunday, with O'Shea likely to play some part.

Having come through the ranks at Manchester United, the versatile O'Shea - who operated in defence or central midfield - also won the FA Cup, Champions League and two League Cups to go alongside his five league winners' medals.

O'Shea announced his retirement having spent the final season of his playing career at Reading after a seven-year stint at Sunderland.

As well as making 393 appearances for Manchester United, O'Shea also collected 118 caps for the Republic of Ireland and captained the team at Euro 2016.

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