Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is shocked that Lionel Messi is not set to feature on the Ballon d’Or podium for the first time since 2006.
France Football will announce 2018’s winner of the prestigious individual award — given to the best player in the world over the course of the calendar year — on Monday.
The final three for the prize has not been revealed officially but it’s been leaked that Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann will compete for the honour.
Messi, 31, has won the Ballon d’Or five times, most recently in 2015. The Argentine helped Barca win a league and cup double earlier this year and has started the new campaign in fine form, with 15 goals already to his name.
“It surprises me as much as anyone else,” Valverde said in a news conference on Saturday ahead of this weekend’s league game against Villarreal at Camp Nou.
“Messi’s been named the best player in the Champions League this season after the first, second and fifth round of fixtures — and he didn’t play in the third and fourth games because he was injured. That’s not us saying that, either, it’s [an award] picked by UEFA. It’s a little strange he is not in the running.”
FIFA The Best winner Modric, who won the Champions League with Real Madrid and reached the World Cup final with Croatia, is expected to win Ballon d’Or.
“To those that are among the final three, congratulations,” Valverde added. “Everyone is free to think what they want, but it is strange, yes [that Messi is not shortlisted].”
Messi will start against Villarreal on Sunday as Barca deal with a mini-injury crisis. Luis Suarez, Arthur Melo, Rafinha and Sergi Roberto are among the players sidelined for the fixture.
Samuel Umtiti is also missing as he continues to struggle with a knee problem. The France defender is keen to avoid surgery and will head to Qatar for treatment this month. If the injury doesn’t heal, Valverde says Barca may have to look to the transfer market in January for reinforcements.
“Unfortunately [Umtiti is] still having problems,” Valverde said. “He is a hugely important player for us and we still hope he can help us this year. We have to help him recover. It’s not easy, but he will have the last word [on surgery].
“We have this month to assess the situation and look at [signings]. For now, we have to push forward with the players we have and the B team. The January transfer window is around the corner and we will have to make decisions then.”
Barca host 17th placed Villarreal having failed to win in their last two league games. They currently trail leaders Sevilla by a point and Valverde called on his players to reclaim top spot.
“What I am interested in is getting back to the top of the table,” he said. “There will always be criticism, that’s nothing new, but all I’m worried about is winning [on Sunday] and keeping my players fit.”