ZURICH: Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi is targeting an unprecedented fifth Ballon d’Or award in Zurich on Monday, with the Argentine heavily favored to reclaim the prize from three-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Brazil striker Neymar, who plays alongside Messi at Barca, is also in the running to be crowned world player of the year after he was included on the three-man shortlist for the first time.
Messi and Neymar, along with overlooked Uruguay star Luis Suarez, formed a formidable front three that propelled Barca to five trophies in 2015, including a second Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble in six seasons.
Messi, who won the award four times in a row from 2009-2012, scored 48 goals for Barca in 2015 as the Catalan giants reclaimed their status as the world’s top club side, easily overcoming South American champions River Plate in the Club World Cup in Japan last month.
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who unlike coach Luis Enrique will be in Zurich for the ceremony has little doubt as to who he thinks, should win the award.
“If I had to vote, I would vote for Leo Messi of course. He is the best player in the world and I hope he wins it,” Bartomeu told Canal Plus.
Enrique, who is up for coach of the year alongside Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola and Jorge Sampaoli — the mastermind behind Chile’s Copa America triumph — added: “It is the personality that a world number one has. (Messi) is a unique and unrepeatable player.”
By comparison, it was a turbulent season for Ronaldo — world player of the year in 2008, 2013 and 2014 — and Real Madrid as they played second fiddle to their archrivals despite a contribution of 54 goals in 52 games from their Portuguese talisman.
Neymar may appear an outsider for the award this time, but the 23-year-old Brazilian is emerging as the main threat to end the Messi-Ronaldo Ballon d’Or stranglehold — Kaka in 2007 was the last player other than the dominant duo to claim the prize — after transforming his prodigious talent into 41 goals of his own this past year.