Zidane hopes Messi’s 45th ‘clásico’ is not his last

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks on during their Champions League soccer match against Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain. Messi is set to play his 45th clasico match against Real Madrid on Saturday, April 10 and it could be his last. Messi has said he will decide his future when his contract expires at the end of the season. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort, file)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks on during their Champions League soccer match against Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain. Messi is set to play his 45th clasico match against Real Madrid on Saturday, April 10 and it could be his last. Messi has said he will decide his future when his contract expires at the end of the season. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort, file) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BARCELONA – Lionel Messi is set to play his 45th - and possibly final - “clásico” match against Real Madrid.

The star status of the Barcelona forward, whose contract expires this summer, has been built on numerous titles and scoring records, as well as his exploits in one of soccer’s top rivalries.

But not even Real coach Zinedine Zidane wants Saturday to be Messi’s last chance to torment Madrid.

“I don’t want this to be the last ‘clásico’ for Messi,” Zidane said on Friday. “Hopefully he stays at Barcelona. He’s good there and it’s also good for the Spanish league. We know how good a player he is.”

Messi, who turns 34 in June, was frustrated in his attempt to leave Barcelona last summer. He said in December that he will decide his future when his season is over and he can walk away for free if he wants. Since then, Joan Laporta has returned to power as the club's president with the goal of convincing Messi to sign another contract, but the player remains silent.

Messi has scored in a “clásico” a record 26 times starting when he netted his first hat trick for Barcelona at age 19 in a 3-3 draw with Real in 2007.

For a decade, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner fed on his personal rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, with both stars exchanging goals and stellar performances to lead their sides.

But since Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018, Messi has failed to score in six consecutive matches against Madrid.