By Alberto Piñero, Gorka Posada and Pilar Suarez
Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera hopes that Lionel Messi stays at Barcelona for many years to come.
The 23-year-old is a huge admirer of the four-time Ballon d'Or winner but, while he acknowledges the importance that the Argentine has in the side, he does not believe that the Blaugrana are overly dependent on their superstar.
"Barcelona have also won lots of games without Messi," he told Goal.com. "It's obvious that it's different when he plays or not, as he is the best player in the world. I hope he stays in Barcelona."
The Catalans travel to face Athletic on Sunday off the back of a humbling 4-0 Champions League semi-final defeat to Bayern Munich but Herrera does not feel that Barca's era of dominance is coming to an end just yet.
|25/1||Ander Herrera is 25/1 with Bet365 to score the first goal in Athletic v Barcelona
"I don't think Barca's era has come to its end. It's the best team I've ever seen and they are only going through a bad moment."
Herrera also paid tribute to former team-mate Javi Martinez - who played a key role in for the Bavarians in their triumph at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday - describing him as the strongest player alongside whom he has played in his career.
"Javi Martinez played his best game of the season in a key moment last Tuesday," the Athletic midfielder observed. "He is so good that the team needs him at his best. Bayern needed his strength and, to be honest, he is the strongest team-mate I've ever had in my short career. I'm happy for him; he deserves it."
Herrera has continued to flourish at the San Mames since the departure of Martinez last summer but he insists that any talk of a Spain call-up remains premature at due to the depth of quality at Vicente del Bosque's disposal.
"The national team is still quite far from me," he added. "There are many great players but I will keep working in case I have my chance in the future. It's time to focus in Athletic though and I can enjoy watching those huge players on TV."