Former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol says Lionel Messi continues to get better and has backed him to win his fifth Ballon d’Or next week.
The four-time winner is a firm favourite to lift the 2015 prize at Monday’s gala in Zurich ahead of team-mate Neymar and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Puyol says the Argentina captain remains a cut above the rest in global football and is amazed at the hunger he has to continue to win titles despite his glittering career to date.
He told Omnisport: “I don’t know who’s going to win. In my opinion, Leo Messi is the one who deserves it. He’s the best in the world and in history probably.
“He gets better every day, he is still growing, he is still hungry, which is very important, and I think he’s going to win his fifth Ballon d’Or. It’s a good number, I always liked five [Puyol’s shirt number at Barca], so I will be happy for him, he deserves it.
“Cristiano and Ney are also great players, but for me Leo is ahead of them.”
Puyol has been impressed at the evolution in Messi’s game in recent seasons and considers him a far greater team player than he was in the past.
“I know him well, I feel fortunate to have played with him for many years and to have seen him grow and evolve,” said the former centre-back.
“He is a player who can decide any moment. At the beginning he was more the kind of player who decides a match individually, but now he also is a team player, he is able to choose the right moment to pass and create a chance for the good of the team.
Puyol is also happy to see Neymar having made the Ballon d’Or final three for the first time and recalls having to face him during the Club World Cup final in 2011, when Barcelona beat Santos 4-0.
“I’m not surprised by Neymar’s performances,” he added. “I knew him already, we played against him the Club World Cup, I had to mark him in the final so I analysed him and realised that he is a player who can make the difference.
“He keeps improving every day, he keeps adapting to Europe and Barcelona and he is showing impressive performances.”