Football

Winning Ballon d'Or not do-or-die for Neymar

Neymar says he plays football for the love of the game, not for individual honours

Lionel Messi has won five, Cristiano Ronaldo has four to his name.

For the last nine years, the Fifa Ballon d'Or - the award for the best footballer in the world - has been shared between two superstars.

Messi's Barcelona teammate Neymar has been regarded as a player who could challenge the duopoly, but the Brazilian star said he "is not going to die" if he doesn't win one Ballon d'Or in his career.

In an interview published on the official La Liga website on Sunday, the 24-year-old said that he was unconcerned at not being named as one of three finalists for football's highest individual award this year.

France and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann was the third name on the final shortlist for this year's award.

Neymar said that he plays the game to be happy, not for individual honours.

"It's obvious that (the Ballon d'Or) is a source of motivation, but I'm not going to die if I don't win it," said Neymar.

The Barca forward was a Ballon d'Or finalist for the first time last year, but he lost out to club teammate Messi, who claimed the prize for a fifth time.

"Above all, I want to be happy and, at Barcelona, I'm happy," Neymar said.

"If I don't win the Ballon d'Or, nothing will change. I don't play football for that. I play to be happy. Only one player can win it."

Neymar added that Barcelona are upbeat about their chances of winning La Liga this season, despite being three points behind Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

"There is still a long way to go," the former Santos prodigy said. "We are just focused on our matches. We can't be worried about Real Madrid.

"Last year, we were 11 points ahead of second, but we won the league only in the last match of the season.

"It's a tough competition and every game is difficult."

Of his relationship with Messi and Luis Suarez, Neymar said: "We are creating history and we are getting better.

"We want to be happy on the pitch and stay together.

"It's a big pleasure and a little bit strange because we are Brazilian, Argentinian and Uruguayan.

"We're rivals in international football, but we have a great friendship.

"We're always joking around with each other. It makes me very happy to have people like that in football."

The Barca No. 11 also had the highest praise for teammate Andres Iniesta, who he believes is peerless in world football.

"Andres (Iniesta) is the best midfielder I have ever seen, for his quality, for everything," Neymar said.

"He's incomparable because he's very, very different.

"Andres has an elegance and a classiness that distinguish him from the rest."

In an interview with sports daily Mundo Deportivo yesterday, Iniesta says he wants to stay on at the Catalan club "for a long time" after his current contract with the club expires in 2018.

"In 2018, my contract ends and my desire is to continue, the whole world knows this, it is no secret." said the 32-year-old.

"But my level of performance will determine if I can stay at Barca. I hope it will be for a long time."

Barcelona recently reached a deal to extend the contract of Uruguay striker Suarez to June 2021. His previous deal was due to expire in 2019.

In October, the club also extended the contract of Neymar until 2021 and they have already started talks to seal a new deal with Messi.

Barca have already tied down Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano to contract extentions this year.

Along with Messi, Iniesta is Barcelona's most decorated player ever with 29 trophies, but he is even more loved across Spain for his winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against Holland.

Iniesta is second behind only former teammate Xavi Hernandez as the player to have made the most number of appearances for Barca.

He is also hopeful coach Luis Enrique will renew his contract with Barcelona when his current deal expires at he end of the season.

"He is very motivated, I hope we can remain together and keep celebrating things, which is what we all want," Iniesta said. - WIRE SERVICES

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