Lionel Messi “completely deserved” his record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or, according to Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino.
The PSG star has endured something of a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, scoring just once in seven games, but his prior exploits with Barcelona and Argentina were enough to secure another accolade.
The 34-year-old’s performances for Argentina at the Copa America, helping his country to a first major trophy in 28 years, were likely what gave him the edge over Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who Messi claimed should have been awarded the cancelled 2020 Ballon d’Or, was once again in the running after breaking Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.
But Pochettino insists his Argentinian compatriot was the most deserving of the award for yet another outstanding year in which he has also managed 32 goals and 12 assists across 40 club appearances.
“Firstly, I want to publicly congratulate Leo and his family,” Pochettino told reporters at Tuesday’s pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Nice.
“Winning seven Ballons d’Or is an extraordinary achievement. I hope he takes advantage of it and that it’s the first day to work on getting the eighth.
“To have players with six and seven Ballon d’Or is something extraordinary and we are delighted to have him here every day.
“We hope at the end of the year to also have collective trophies beyond the individual trophies.”
Asked about the criticism of the Argentina international’s victory, Pochettino responded: “Messi completely deserved it and there is no debate.
“Of course, in other countries there may be criticism, but he completely deserved it.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Nice, PSG lead Ligue 1 by 12 points after winning 13 of their opening 15 games, a total surpassed only once at this stage in the competition by PSG themselves in 2018-19 (14/15).
The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.
PSG will decide on the fitness of the pair on the morning of the Nice game, while they will definitely be without Neymar, who is expected to be out for six to eight weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against Saint-Etienne.