Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano has declared he would give the Ballon d’Or to team-mate Lionel Messi.
The diminutive attacker is one of the favourites to win the prestigious accolade for a fourth consecutive year, after scoring a whopping 73 goals in all competitions during the 2011-12 season.
Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is also well placed in the race for the award, but Mascherano puts three of his Blaugrana team-mates ahead of the Portugal international.
“Messi? We are talking about a player who scored more than 80 goals (for Barca and Argentina), that is crazy,” Mascherano told reporters at a press conference.
“If I had to vote for the Ballon d’Or, I would give it to Messi, then Xavi and Andres Iniesta.”
Mascherano then admitted he was thrilled to move to Camp Nou in 2010 after three years at Liverpool, and confirmed talks regarding a new contract are at an advanced stage.
“Coming to Barca was the best decision I have made in my life because I have accomplished so many things here,” the 28-year-old said.
“I hope that I will stay here for many years. If I sign a new contract, it will be until 2016, when I will be 32. My renewal is looking very good.
“If I feel fine, I would like to play some more years. But I am not thinking if I would like to retire at this club.”
Quizzed on his opinion about Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez, who is on Barca’s wishlist this summer, Mascherano said: “From what I have seen, he is a great player.
“He is going through the same thing that has happened to me: his coach has deployed him in a different position and he has been playing at a great level.
“He is an international for Spain and he has all the qualities to play at a big club like Athletic and Barca.
“No one has doubts about his quality and what he can give to a team.”
The Argentina international was also asked to revisit his side’s Champions League semi-final defeat against Chelsea, who would go on to win the tournament.
“We were superior to Chelsea during that tie, but that is football,” Mascherano said.
“In La Liga, Madrid deserved to beat us at the Camp Nou, there is nothing else to say.
“I do not want to say that Chelsea did not deserve to win the Champions League, but we deserved more than what we got from the matches against them.”