Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has backed team talisman Kevin De Bruyne to win the Ballon d'Or but said his star must win the UEFA Champions League if he wants to take football's highest individual accolade.
The Citizens travel to face Basel in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash on Tuesday, and when quizzed on De Bruyne's chances of taking the Ballon d'Or, Guardiola alluded to the Champions League as a must-win competition to be in contention. Per James Robson of the Manchester Evening News, he said:
"You have to be there in the latter stages. Without the latter stages you will not be nominated. He knows and everyone knows to be there [in contention for the Ballon d'Or] you have to win titles, and titles and titles. Especially one.
"He is not playing like this in just one game. It's the whole season—every three days—playing that way.
"The way he's played it's difficult to find one [a player like him] in Europe."
De Bruyne has taken his production rate to new levels this season as City storm towards the Premier League title, and Copa90 US recently argued his credentials as a candidate for the Ballon d'Or:
The Belgium international added another three assists to his total in Saturday's 5-1 win over Leicester City, a result that helped City steal a 16-point lead at the Premier League summit before Manchester United lost 1-0 at Newcastle United on Sunday.
It's De Bruyne's relationship with Guardiola in particular that's seen him thrive at the Etihad Stadium, however, according to The Independent's Miguel Delaney:
The playmaker has scored seven goals and registered 14 assists in the Premier League this season and has started in every one of City's league games, surpassing his previous levels as they mow down the competition.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the last two Ballon d'Or titles on offer, and between them, he and Lionel Messi have accounted for the last 10 awards handed out.
The Premier League title looks all but delivered, and City could launch a strong run at the Champions League crown with De Bruyne leading the charge and Basel next on their fixture list.
Former AC Milan and Real Madrid icon Kaka was the last player—and non-forward—to win the Ballon d'Or in 2007, and Squawka showed how De Bruyne is showcasing similarly impressive creative skills as the Brazilian:
Messi and Ronaldo's decade-long rein over the Ballon d'Or has to come to an end at some point, but it's inevitable winning team titles enhances one's bid for one of the top prizes in football.
Guardiola's string-pulling puppeteer will be one of the headline contenders for end-of-season awards if City do triumph in Europe this term, but it may require Messi slowing down somewhat before a Ballon d'Or is delivered in 2018.