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The forward claims that the much-publicised hug was not his compatriot's idea, insisting that he wanted to display his affection for a coach who has done so much for him

Lionel Messi has insisted that he embraced outgoing Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola of his own accord in Saturday's 4-0 victory over Espanyol, amidst speculation that the Argentine had been urged to do so by team-mate Javier Mascherano.

There have been rumours that the pair's relationship has become increasingly strained in recent months and it was reported over the weekend that the Rosario native was persuaded by his compatriot to hug his coach after netting his fourth goal in Guardiola's final game at Camp Nou.

However, Messi, who has previously had to explain why he failed to show up for the press conference at which Guardiola announced his decision to resign, insists that his respect and admiration for the former Blaugrana midfielder remains as strong as ever.

"I felt the need to embrace Pep to thank him for all he has done for me," the three-time Ballon d'Or winner wrote on Tencent Weibo. "Guardiola has been important in my career."

Guardiola's final Liga game in charge of Barca comes against Real Betis this weekend, but his last official outing will be the Copa del Rey final showdown with Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderon on May 25.

Between November and February, Goal.com published 10 exclusive extracts from Graham Hunter's highly anticipated new book, 'Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World'. Click here to read all 10 extracts. Don't miss it!

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