And it is precisely the latter duo who will be bearing the Albiceleste standard come 12 January’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, with Messi aiming to be crowned the world’s finest for a fifth time, and Simeone bidding for a first FIFA World Coach of the Year crown.
“I’m not surprised by what he’s achieving, which has come on the back of sacrifice and hard work,” continued the legendary former right-back or midfielder, who feels that El Cholo’s feats at Atletico Madrid last term – winning La Liga and finishing UEFA Champions League runners-up – make him a more than worthy contender for the coaching award. “With respect to (Carlo) Ancelotti and (Joachim) Low, I think that he’s done enough with Atletico to take home the top prize.”
The guys who play in midfield and up front are the ones who decide games. That said, Philipp Lahm also deserved major recognition.
Given the recent dominance of the Ballon d’Or award by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the win by Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 now seems remarkably distant. What is more, the gifted centre-back, fresh from captaining his country to World Cup glory, was the last defender to date to win the coveted honour.
Zanetti, who began his career as a right-sided defender at Argentinian outfit Banfield, is aware of how unlikely one of his defensive fellows is to repeat Cannavaro’s achievement: “The guys who play in midfield and up front are the ones who decide games. That said, (Germany right-back and defensive midfielder) Philipp Lahm also deserved major recognition.”
Does that mean he feels goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is a longer shot for the Ballon d’Or than Messi or Ronaldo? “I couldn’t tell you how it’s going to go, because we’re talking about three great players and they’re all worthy contenders. I expect the voting to be very fiercely contested, and Neuer certainly deserves to be in the mix too.”
However, when it came to picking a personal favourite, El Pupi’s blue-and-white blood shone through: “I’m hoping that Messi wins it - he’s a true great. He never stops surprising people: at any given moment he’s capable of improvising with a touch of skill or something spectacular that can win you a game. In my view, he’s the best player in the world.”