Newcastle striker Ayoze Perez admits it is “special” to have earned the slightest comparison to Lionel Messi, a man he considers to be “head and shoulders above every footballer in the world”.
The Spanish striker, who once turned down the opportunity to head to Camp Nou, was recently likened to a mercurial Argentine in Catalunya.
Having helped to tee up fellow frontman Salomon Rondon to spark a comeback win against Everton, Magpies boss Rafa Benitez described Perez’s pass as Messi-like.
The 25-year-old concedes that he is a long way short of matching the South American on an overall basis, but will take any link to a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and all-time great.
Perez told the Daily Star: “Messi is my all-time hero, head and shoulders above every footballer in the world.
“So to be mentioned in the same sentence by someone I respect so much was special.
“It also told me I must be doing something right as well.”
Perez has not always earned such high praise during his time at St James’ Park.
There was a time earlier this season when, during a 3-0 home defeat to West Ham, he was jeered from the field after being substituted.
A man who is hoping to complete a reversal in fortune by earning a call-up to the senior Spain squad at some stage has said of the criticism he faced: “I cannot pretend it was an easy situation.
“In fact, it was a very difficult time.
“In that period, you lean on those closest to you and my family helped a lot.
“They realised what was going on and tried to find the right words without lying to me.
“But you are the only one who can get yourself out of it. Every player goes through tough moments but it is how you react that is important.
“That will show up first the person you are, then the footballer.”
Perez has managed seven goals in 29 appearances for Newcastle this season, with five of those recorded since the turn of the calendar year.