Ernesto Valverde admits it would be a surprise if Lionel Messi misses out on a place among the final three nominees for the 2018 Ballon d’Or.
Reports emerged in Spain this week to suggest France Football’s prize will go to Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, with Cristiano Ronaldo second and Antoine Griezmann third.
If true, it would mark the end of Messi and Ronaldo’s 10-year dominance of the award and the first time the Argentina star has not been in the final three since 2006.
Barcelona head coach Valverde agrees it would be strange to see the 31-year-old failed to be recognised for his form.
“Messi was the best player in the first week, second week and fifth week of the Champions League [this season],” he told a news conference. “He must have played really badly in the third and fourth week, then… Ah, no, he was injured!
“What can we say? We can congratulate the players who are. It is a little bit strange, but there you are.”
Barca resume their LaLiga title defence on Sunday against Villarreal looking to end a two-game winless run, but recent injuries to Samuel Umtiti, Luis Suarez, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha and Arthur have left the squad looking stretched.
Valverde hopes to have Thomas Vermaelen and Arthur back to full fitness soon but would not rule out possible January signings to cover for the absence of Umtiti.
“Until the window comes along, we have to go along with what we have,” he said. “We’ll see how Samuel Umtiti’s injury develops and we hope he’ll come back sooner rather than later. We don’t really know if we’ll have to go to the market or not. There are many things we need to assess between now and then. We’ll see. We’ve got time.
“We have to define these things this month. We’re coming into January. Umtiti is being very closely monitored but we know there’s a winter transfer window coming up. We can’t wait five months for a decision like that; we need a strong team. But we’re pretty sure we’ll get Umtiti back before the end of the season.
“It’s the worst thing to happen to a coach because it’s something you can’t control. It seems a lot of injuries have come at the same time. Sometimes, they’re more spread out; sometimes they seem to happen at once. It means you’re keener than ever for the players to get over them. We just regained some players, like [Ivan] Rakitic, [Philippe] Coutinho, we should have others back very shortly.”
The game at Camp Nou will be Valverde’s 400th in LaLiga as a head coach, with the 54-year-old going in search of his 183rd win.
“It’s a lot!” he said. “When you’re coaching, you don’t count the games. It’s a round figure and a big one. It means I’m probably nearer the end than the start.”