Lionel Messi has been told he is the “prime candidate” to win the Ballon d’Or following his Copa America heroics.
After a trophy-laden 16 years with Barcelona, Messi finally won his first major international honours when Argentina beat rivals Brazil 1-0 to be crowned kings of South America.
Next on the agenda will be resolving his club future, with the 34-year-old officially a free agent after his contract at the Nou Camp expired.
And he has been backed by club boss Ronald Koeman to add to his record six Ballon d’Or prizes later this year.
“Messi is the prime candidate for the Balon d’Or after a great season and for me he is the favourite,” Koeman told Barcelona’s official website.
“He is vitally important. For what he brings to the team, he’s the captain and an example.”
Messi scored four goals to fire Argentina to Copa America glory, having fired 38 in all competitions last term as Barca won the Copa del Rey but finished third in La Liga.
And Koeman said: “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.”
The Barca boss said experienced players such as Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba would have a big role to play as the Blaugraunas bid to get back on top both domestically and in Europe next season.
“The most veteran players have a place in the squad, they already showed it last year and it is important that they are with us,” said Koeman, quoted by Mundo Deportivo.
“In a club like Barça, the balance between the oldest and the youngest must exist. We need the older ones because we always have to look for a balance, a balance in the squad.”
Messi won the Olympics with Argentina in 2008 – and this summer Koeman will lose Pedri to the Games after the 18-year-old starred for Spain at Euro 2020.
Nevertheless, the Barca boss is expecting big things from the teenager next term.
“He had a great Euro 2020,” said Koeman. “At just 18 after the season he has had, playing with great maturity, it is really amazing.
“He is still improving and he is a great kid and he lives for football.
“It is a shame for us that he is going to the Olympics but he knows we expect a lot of him and we have confidence in him and he knows that he has a coach who is not afraid of giving young players a chance.”
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