MADRID, Spain (AFP) — Dutch legend Johan Cruyff yesterday backed Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi to win up to seven Ballon d'Or awards in his career.
"Messi will be the player to win the most Ballons d'Or in history. He will win five, six, seven. He is incomparable. He's in a different league," former Barcelona player and coach Cruyff told Ole newspaper.
Messi will find out today if he has become the first man since Michel Platini to win the Ballon d'Or for three years running when the winner of the 2011 award is announced at a ceremony in Zurich.
The 24-year-old Barcelona superstar won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'Or — a combination of the France Football Ballon d'Or prize and FIFA's World Player of the Year award — last year, having picked up both awards in 2009.
Meanwhile, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said Messi deserves to win the Ballon d'Or, praising the Argentine forward for helping turn the Spanish club into "one of the best in history".
"It is clear, Messi, he has been playing at a high level for years. And Leo is the best in the world," Pique said in an interview published in Catalan daily La Vanguardia yesterday when asked who deserved to win the prize.
"He is driving this team to be one of the best in history. Thanks to him we have won many of the titles that we have in our windows.
"It is a pleasure to have him with us, he plays like when he was 13 years old, except now he does it in a professional way and before the best players. We just have to hope that he maintains this level for as long as possible."
Pique also said he hopes that coach Pep Guardiola signs a new contract with Barcelona.
Guardiola's current deal expires at the end of the season and the fact that he has so far not renewed it has led to media speculation that he plans to leave the Spanish and European champions.
Last week Guardiola said he has "not taken any decision" about his future.
"Pep is much of the essence of this team, since he arrived he has defended his ideas to the death, he has achieved everything that he wanted to," said Pique.
"If he departed now, Pep would leave a huge gap, it would be very difficult to find a substitute. But you can't think of this, you have to enjoy yourself, and learn everything that he can teach you, which is a lot," he added.
Guardiola was on Friday elected coach of the year for 2011 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).