Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu says Andrea Pirlo's form over the past year should have resulted in him being awarded the Ballon d'Or, ahead of his side's clash with Juventus on Tuesday.
The coach worked with the midfielder as a 15-year-old at Brescia, before signing him upon his appointment as Inter boss in 1998.
However, the Italy international failed to establish himself with the Nerazzurri following the trainer's dismissal.
Nonetheless, Pirlo most recently played an instrumental role in the Old Lady's charge towards the Serie A title and his country's run to the final of Euro 2012, and Lucescu believes his exploits last season deserved to warrant the prized individual award.
"I know Andrea Pirlo very well," said Lucescu 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, but insisted his side are aware of the threat posed by the Italian champions.
"Pirlo is a great player and he has shown in his career that he always produces great games," he added. "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."