Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu said Andrea Pirlo’s form over the past year should have seen him awarded the Ballon d’Or.
The coach worked with the midfielder as a 15-year-old at Brescia, before signing him upon his appointment as Inter boss in 1998, but they will go up against each other as Lucescu’s side take’s on Pirlo’s Juventus in the Champions League group stages on Tuesday night.
Pirlo more recently played an instrumental role in Juve’s charge towards the Serie A title and Italy’s run to the Euro 2012 final, and Lucescu said his exploits last season deserved to warrant the prized individual award.
“I know Andrea Pirlo very well,” Lucescu said at a press conference.
“When I worked at Brescia, he was 15 and a half and was already attracting attention.
“We have stayed in contact since. His development has been exceptional and I am convinced that, with all he has done last year in the league and for Italy, he deserved to win the Ballon d’Or.
“He should have won it to crown his career. Pirlo is in great form, and for me, he is always number one.”
Shakhtar midfielder Fernandinho was also vocal in his admiration of the World Cup winner and upcoming opponent Pirlo, but insisted his side wished to nullify his threat when they meet in Torino.
“Pirlo is a great player and he has shown in his career that he always produces great games,” Fernandinho said.
“I hope we are able to stop him tomorrow.
“There are difficulties in every game, but we have studied Juve well and we know their strengths so I hope that will make the difference on the pitch.”