Barcelona forward Lionel Messi admitted he would rather win a single FIFA World Cup than five Ballon d'Or awards when speaking to reporters during a press event ahead of the ceremony with team-mate Neymar and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sky Sports' Guillem Balague shared the comments, which came in response to a question from a fan:
Messi: 5 ballon d'ors or one World Cup? Wow, what a question. I prefer one World Cup, the ultimate trophy for any player— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 11, 2016
Messi is the favourite to win his fifth Ballon d'Or trophy on Wednesday, but he's still waiting for his first World Cup win with Argentina, and his lack of international success has been a point of criticism throughout his career.
The mood on the stage for Wednesday's press event was remarkably amiable, with Ronaldo looking very relaxed. The Real Madrid man didn't win a single trophy in 2015, unlike Messi and Neymar, and he told reporters he knows his chances of winning the award are slim:
Ronaldo: Leo has got more possibilities to win today, maybe even Neymar. I am here because I have been voted here and that makes me happy— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 11, 2016
For Neymar, the youngest of the three and the only one yet to win a Ballon d'Or of his own, the experience was truly special.
Via ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, the Brazil international showered both Messi and Ronaldo with praise:
Neymar "I think they are absolutely the best, that's why they're here. I think they've made history. Both Lionel and Cristiano."— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 11, 2016
He also told reporters he's not sure whether he's already playing at their level or still needs more time to develop:
Neymar "I dont know if I'm up to their level [yet]. These are two idols - difficult to think of yourself as equal or better than them."— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 11, 2016
But Messi immediately cut in, pointing out Neymar is already a top player and his own man, not a successor:
Messi "Neymar is nobody's successor, he will be himself, which is great. He will keep evolving and improving. Can be whatever he wants to b"— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 11, 2016
Via Balague, he reserved even more praise for his team-mate:
Messi: Neymar will be a huge player and has everything to be whatever he wants to be. As well as being a great person, that makes him better— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) January 11, 2016
Ronaldo soon joined in, telling reporters he would like to have Messi's left foot―although Neymar had the perfect reply to that statement, via Corrigan:
Ronaldo - "Messi's left foot is very good, I would like to have that..." Neymar butts in "I'd like to have both his feet".— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 11, 2016
The Portugal international also shared the story how he was handed the iconic No. 7 shirt after he signed for Manchester United, revealing he originally asked for another number. According to Goal's Ewan Roberts, it was sir Alex Ferguson, the club's manager at the time, who handed him the shirt and issued a challenge:
At the beginning of my career in Manchester, yes. I remember when I signed for Manchester I arrived at the club and I asked for 28, because it was the number I used at Sporting.
But the coach said to me: 'No, you're not going to wear 28, you're going to use No.7.' And I was a little bit afraid, petrified, because, you know, I knew that [David] Beckham used that shirt.
But I said OK, I accept the challenge, and since then it's been my lucky number. Because everything I have won in football, it was with that shirt. It's my lucky number.
The press event didn't last particularly long, and the three did their very best to avoid difficult questions, instead praising each other as much as possible.
But it was nice to see players of rival teams on the stage in such a relaxed atmosphere, as the Ballon d'Or ceremony usually comes down to some awkward stares between Messi and Ronaldo.
The latter is unlikely to win any major silverware this year, and his relaxed demeanor likely resulted from that. Either way, the respect between these three players was on show in Zurich, which is never a bad thing.