Ronald Koeman insists Lionel Messi is a ‘prime candidate’ and the favourite to win this year’s Ballon d’Or award after yet another stunning season for club and country.
Messi, who is currently a free agent, has won the coveted prize on six separate occasions – the most in history – with a seventh taking him two clear of nearest rival Cristiano Ronaldo
He is once again in the frame for the award after finally winning international silverware with Argentina, which saw him lift this summer’s Copa America in Brazil.
And while he was only able to lift the Copa del Rey with Barcelona in a poor campaign for the club, Koeman believes his goalscoring exploits for club and country in a difficult season only enhance his chances of winning the award.
‘He is vitally important. For what he brings to the team, he’s the captain and an example,’ the Barca boss told the club’s official website. ‘His goalscoring has been brilliant despite a difficult start.
‘He has shown time and again he is the best in the world. I know how much he wanted to win the Copa América and he has done it at last.
‘Messi is the prime candidate for the Ballon d’Or after a great season and, for me, he is the favourite.’
Koeman is confident the Argentine will re-sign with the club after seeing his last contract at the Nou Camp expire n June 30.
And with the Catalan side on the verge of tying him down to a new deal, the Dutch boss will be counting on Messi’s goals from next season and beyond.
Messi scored 38 goals in 47 appearances across all competitions for Barcelona last season, including 30 in LaLiga, which saw him win the league’s topscorer Pichichi award for a eighth time – the most in history.
His 14 assists also saw him him Barca to a third-place finish while they managed to not go trophyless despite the well-documented fallout of the club’s board earlier on in the campaign.
The 34-year-old managed to carry his typically sublime form onto the international stage, where his four goals and five assists in seven matches saw him win the Copa America and the Player of the Tournament award to go with it.
Now, after a gruelling season, Messi is taking some time off with his family, including his wife Antonela Roccuzzo and three sons Thiago, Mateo and Ciro, in the United States and he is expected to return to Barcelona later this month to sign a new five-year contract.
As Sportsmail revealed last week, the contract will see Messi take a 50 per cent pay cut to remain with the club he has been with since 2000 – amassing 778 games and scoring 672 goals.
He will now stay at the Nou Camp until he is 39 and will help the club with their cost cutting following warnings from LaLiga president Javier Tebas who says their spending must continue to be reduced drastically before Messi can be registered.