Barcelona legend Xavi describes Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Luis Suarez as “incredible” players, but says none of the trio are on the same level as Lionel Messi.
Debate frequently rages over who, between Messi and Real Madrid star Ronaldo, is the greatest talent in world football.
The discussion has widened over the past 12 months, though, with Neymar and Suarez influential in inspiring Barcelona to a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble last term.
Suarez was the unfortunate one of the quartet to miss the final shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award, which will be contested between current holder Ronaldo, Neymar and favourite Messi.
Xavi paid tribute to all four players, but the World Cup winner with Spain is adamant that Messi is a cut above the rest.
“Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Suarez are extraordinary, incredible players, but they are below Messi,” he told Portuguese publication Record.
“It is now more difficult to attack and dribble. Players are more physical, there is space to play and Leo gets haggled, creates spaces, scores goals, and makes a difference in every game.”
Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the Ballon d’Or awards in recent times, the duo winning the past seven between them.
Some pundits feel Xavi should have won football’s greatest individual honour during his career, but he insists that he never felt he should have won the accolade.
“I never felt worthy of the prize,” he added. “Many people tell me [I should], but there is Messi, the best footballer in history. It is normal that he won.
“I never had the feeling that I should have won the award.”