Lionel Messi is the favourite to win the 2021 Ballon d'Or, according to Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman, who has also discussed the club's new signings Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay.
A man who has already won the coveted prize on six occasions is being tipped to get the nod again after following up another impressive campaign at Barca by leading Argentina to glory at the Copa America.
International silverware was the only thing missing from Messi's illustrious CV, and Koeman believes he deserves recognition for setting the standard in terms of individual brilliance for both club and country over the past 12 months.
What's been said?
Messi is currently a free agent, having seen his last contract at Camp Nou reach its expiry date on June 30, but Barca are on the verge of tying the 34-year-old down to a new long-term deal, and Koeman is counting on him to be a talismanic figure in his squad once again in 2021-22.
“He is vitally important. For what he brings to the team, he’s the captain and an example," the Barca boss told the club's official website. "His goalscoring has been brilliant despite a difficult start.
"He has shown time and again he is the best in the world. I know how much he wanted to win the Copa América and he has done it at last.
"Messi is the prime candidate for the Ballon d’Or after a great season and, for me, he is the favourite.”
Messi's numbers 2020-21 numbers
Messi scored 38 goals in 47 appearances across all competitions for Barca last term, including 30 in La Liga, which saw him earn the Pichichi award for the division's top scorer for a record-extending eighth time.
He also provided 14 assists for his team-mates while helping Koeman's side win the Copa del Rey, and was able to carry that form onto the international stage.
Messi recorded four goals and five assists in seven games during Argentina's run to the Copa America crown, scooping Player of Tournament and Golden Ball prizes after their final victory over Brazil.
Koeman on Aguero and Depay
Koeman has also outlined what he expects from new arrivals Aguero and Depay, with both men joining Barca on free transfers after their respective departures from Manchester City and Lyon.
The Dutchman said of Aguero: “He is an important signing as we have to improve in front of goal. ‘Kun’ is an experienced player and very dangerous in the box.
"He has to be right physically and we want him to be at his best for us.”
Koeman previously worked with Depay while in charge of the Netherlands national team, and believes he has all the necessary qualities to add a new dimension to the Blaugrana attack.
“It’s important that I know him well; he knows how I work and he is a player with a lot of character – he is strong, quick, he brings us a lot," he said.
"He can play anywhere up front and he is coming into the prime of his career. He improved a lot at Lyon and he gained experience as a captain.”