Lionel Messi believes Barcelona team-mate Neymar has developed into a “more complete” player since their meeting in the Club World Cup final in 2011.
The Brazilian was regarded as an unproven teenager when his Santos team took on Pep Guardiola’s Barca four years ago, losing 4-0.
However, Neymar has since established himself as one of the world’s top players following his move to Camp Nou, recognised by his inclusion – alongside Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – on the shortlist for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or.
And four-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi has been impressed by his team-mate’s progress.
“A lot of time’s gone by since then and I’ve witnessed his enormous growth, both as a footballer and as a person,” Messi told FIFA.com.
“Back then he was already a really great player and now he’s even more so – he’s much more complete.
“Truthfully, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have him alongside us now.”
Messi acknowledged the Catalan side now have a more direct approach under Luis Enrique, but insists their possession-based philosophy remains integral.
“We’ve changed a little bit. We’ve become a more vertical team. Of course, we’ve not lost our ideology of keeping hold of the ball, that’s our trademark and our priority: to control the play and keep possession as much as we possibly can,” he added.
“But now we’ve incorporated the idea that, with just a couple of touches, we can get in front of the opposition’s goal.
“Before it was about getting there using more elaborate build-up play.”