The moment Lionel Messi scored in the 30th minute, Barcelona boss Luis Enrique heaved a sigh of relief.
Messi let the ball rolling for the Catalans en route to a 3-1 win over Deportivo Alaves to capture their third straight Copa del Rey title on Sunday.
It was a fitting tribute, or to be more specific a fitting gift, for Enrique whose reign as manager ended with something he will cherish.
Enrique had made it known he is leaving the club last March.
That was when the Catalans fell short of expectations this season, losing the La Liga crown to rivals Real Madrid, and getting knocked out by Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals.
But Messi’s opening goal proved to be the inspiration for Barca against Alaves.
From then on, Barca played with nothing on their mind but to win it for their manager, with Neymar bringing them back to the lead in the 45th after Theo Hernandez levelled for Alaves in the 33rd.
And with Messi providing assist, Paco Alcacer converted what proved to be the winner in the 48th.
The Copa del Rey trophy brought Enrique’s collection to nine in his two years in charge, thanks mainly to the power of Messi’s ability to will the squad to win.
Although Alaves shocked Barca 2-1 in their La Liga game at Camp Nou last September, Messi and Co. showed they won’t get the same result in the last match to be played at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
As Enrique prepares to part ways with the squad, an important announcement will be made Tuesday as to who will be the next Barca boss.
Barca have now captured 29 Copa del Rey trophies, six more than any other team. The nearest to their collection are Atletico Madrid with 23.
Messi, despite the woes inflicted by the la Liga and Champions League defeats, became the first player to score in four different Copa finals (2017, 2015, 2012 and 2009) since Telmo Zara (1950, 1945, 1944 and 1943).
His ice breaker was converted via a set piece of his own straight at Alaves goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco.
Neymar turned Andre Gomes’ low center across the line to equalize for Barca, then Messi’s wondrous close control opened a space for Alcacer, starting in place of the suspended Luis Suarez, to calmly score past Pacheco.
As for Neymar, he made record of his own by becoming the first player to score in three successive finals (2017, 2016 and 2015) since Real Madrid icon Ferenc Puskas (1962, 1961 and a1960).
Enrique, ever grateful, thanked his players, especially Messi whom he called “extraterrestrial in every sense.’’
He also said: “I’m very fortunate that I was able to enjoy the best, or one of the best, versions of him. Without a doubt he’s the number one and to be that you have to control every aspect and be very strong physically. He takes perfect care of himself, and there’s still a lot more to come from Messi.’’
And who would not be a gratified boss if you have a Messi on your side?
Surely, there won’t be a trace of sadness on the 47-year-old Enrique when he bids the club goodbye.