By Ben Hayward
Dani Alves believes Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi is still way ahead of the competition at the summit of world football.
Messi missed much of 2013 through injury, but has made the shortlist for the Ballon d'Or along with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery.
The four-time winner is not favourite this year with Ronaldo in pole position to claim the Fifa and France Football award.
But Alves insists that, regardless of who picks up the trophy for the year’s outstanding player, Messi remains the game's greatest individual talent.
“The Ballon d’Or thing is a little tiresome because it has been moved to a different playing field,” said the defender.
“It has moved to the field of opinions and off the field of play. But if we look at the field of play, I think Leo, for as long as he is around, will push the rest into second place.
“Moving away from that, perhaps he has less chance. The winner will be the one who has had the best campaign, or the best publicity campaign.
"We are talking about the Ballon d’Or as if we were talking about politics. The one with the best campaign wins, not the one who plays the best football, the one who makes the most incredible runs or scores the most goals."
While a significant part of the Ballon d’Or marks are made up of journalists’ votes, the FIFPro World XI - also announced in Zurich on January 13 - is decided exclusively by footballers and Alves believes that makes inclusion in the team more satisfying.
The Brazilian, 30, who made the selection in 2009, 2011 and 2012, is shortlisted again this year.
He said: “It’s something special. The importance of being chosen by other players is the fact that you have been selected by people who know what they are talking about – people who know how difficult football is, how hard it is to compete and to win in a world where everyone plays and plays so well.
“So you are being chosen by people who understand whereas, for example, the Ballon d’Or is chosen by people who think they understand.”
Alves is one of three Barcelona defenders shortlisted for the FIFPro World XI, but they face fierce competition from Bayern Munich’s rearguard after the Bavarians claimed a treble in 2013, beating the Blaugrana 7-0 over two legs en route to Champions League glory at Wembley in May.
“They won so many competitions and perhaps the most important one of all, so it’s normal they should have so many players with a chance of being in the XI,” Alves added.
“My year has been fairly consistent and I have won things too. But they have done really well and, if they are chosen, it will be on merit.”
Five of the six Brazilians named in the FIFPro World XI shortlist are defenders and Alves says that proves the Selecao side is built on firm foundations.
“We took a leap of quality at the Confederations Cup,” he explained.
“Many people were very doubtful about our team and didn’t believe in Brazil, but after the Confederations Cup that belief came back and the people now believe in these players. And that leads to other things, such as these nominations, but you have to win as well – with your club and with your national team.”
In total, 19 defenders have been nominated for the FIFPro World XI and Alves admits he admires many of his contemporaries – at Barca and beyond.
“[Jordi] Alba is enjoying a splendid moment, Geri [Pique] has spectacular quality and I also have a weakness for [Javier] Mascherano because of the intensity with which he plays the game and how he lives it," he said.
“Sergio Ramos is a great centre-back, while I also like [Dortmund defender Mats] Hummels a lot, as well as [Bayern’s] Dante, [Vincent] Kompany at Manchester City and David Luiz. Even if he is not getting a run of games at Chelsea, he is a great for the Brazilian team and always does well.
“There are lots, but in Brazil we have so many great defenders.”
The other Brazilian representative in the FIFPro World XI list is Neymar – and Alves is heartened by his compatriot’s adaptation at Camp Nou following his summer transfer from Santos.
“He seems happy to me,” said Alves. “I spoke to him and told him to come to Barca, with the aim of being happy, enjoying something new, a wonderful experience at a great club. And on top of that, I told him to do what he does best. I think he is achieving that.”
For more information on the FIFPro World XI, click here for the exclusive FifPro Facebook application and prediction game: http://bit.ly/WorldXIApp