Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino says Lionel Messi remains the world’s best player despite Cristiano Ronaldo claiming 2013 Ballon d’Or.
Messi, 26, had won the award for the last four years, but after a year disrupted by injury was well beaten to the trophy by the Real Madrid man when the votes were counted this time around.
Martino was asked at a news conference on Wednesday evening whether Messi would now be extra motivated by the challenge of regaining the prize next year, he said: “First, I must congratulate Cristiano Ronaldo and all the people who won, as it is an important prize. It is the recognition of the work done during a year.
“But the winner over one year is one thing, and a different thing is the best player in the world -- we have him here. What he wants is for things to go well at Barcelona, and then with Argentina. From there the Ballon d’Or will be evaluated. But he is thinking first about being a decisive player for his club and country.”
Messi made his return from two months out in last week’s Copa del Rey last 16 first leg against Getafe, scoring twice in just 30 minutes on the pitch as Barca won 4-0, but was less effective playing the whole second half as a sub in Saturday’s 0-0 La Liga draw at Atletico Madrid.
Martino said that Messi’s fitness was improving every day, but he would not reveal whether he was now ready to start his first game of 2014 in Thursday evening’s second leg at Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
“It is different now than last week,” Martino said. “He has a lot of training done now, and has a much bigger chance of starting a game as he has a bigger chance of finishing a game. It would not be good to send out Leo -- or anyone else -- when there are risks over their physical condition. So we will continue to be cautious. He will return from minute zero when he can do it with no negative consequences.”
Andres Iniesta has been left out of Barca’s 18-man squad for the trip to suburban Madrid, to recover fully from the bruised knee suffered against Atletico. Martino has also decided to rest regulars Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, for a game in which squad players including Jose Pinto, Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya and Alex Song are expected to feature.
Neymar should also start, after recovering fully from the bug which disrupted his start to 2014, while winger Cristian Tello -- linked with a move away from the Camp Nou to get more regular football with Liverpool apparently interested -- could also play a part.
“Neymar is training as normal,” he said. “We will look for a way to allow Cristian to participate, so that he can give us what he would like to. I want everyone who started the season here to end it with us.” Marc Bartra, who it was announced on Wednesday had agreed a contract extension with the club, should start alongside Carles Puyol in defence. Martino said the contract news was a positive for both the club and player.
“[Bartra’s] qualities are clear to see -- his motivation, his quality, his pride, his motivation to triumph in a Barca jersey,” he said. “He learns so much day to day training alongside Puyol, [Gerard] Pique and [Javier] Mascherano. With the future he has in front of him it was fundamental that Barcelona kept him for a long time. This is good news for everyone.”