PARIS: Fresh from hitting his 300th career goal in a weekend swamping of Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona icon Lionel Messi heads a 23-strong shortlist for a fourth FIFA/France Football Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) award.
National team captains and head coaches plus international media representatives selected by the French magazine will determine who wins the accolade, with Argentina’s Messi favourite to land the award again at a presentation on January 7.
A three-man final shortlist will be unveiled on November 29 along with the three-strong shortlists for best coach, best female star and best women’s coach.
Messi has scored 73 goals for Barcelona in all competitions this year, leaving him just two short of Pele’s 75 for Santos and Brazil in 1959.
He is also closing in fast on Gerd Mueller’s all-time calendar year record of 85 for Bayern Munich and West Germany in 1972.
Messi’s main rival again appears to be 2008 player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo but Spain keeper and fellow Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas is another strong candidate after his role in Spain’s retention of their Euro crown.
Then there are Barcelona’s mercurial midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta as well as Brazil’s superstar Neymar.
Ivory Coast veteran striker Didier Drogba is also on the list after helping Chelsea win the Champions League.
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is the only English player in the list.
Vying with Spain’s Vicente del Bosque for the coaching accolade are Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea; Manchester United’s longserving Alex Ferguson; former Barca coach Pep Guardiola; Jupp Heynckes of Bayern Munich; Jurgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund; Germany’s Joachim Loew; Roberto Mancini of Manchester City; Real’s Jose Mourinho; and Italian handler Cesare Prandelli.