ROBERTO Martinez says Lionel Messi can become the greatest player of all-time after the Barcelona superstar picked up a fourth successive Ballon d’Or.
But the Wigan boss has denied La Liga is head and shoulders above the Premier League despite providing the entire World XI.
Messi was the big winner at the glittering event in Zurich, pipping Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona Andres Iniesta to the top award.
And despite Ronaldo helping Real Madrid to the Spanish title last term, Martinez believes Messi deserves his accolade.
“When you have a player who can come up with the records he has, he is clearly worthy of winning any award,” Martinez told the Evening Post.
“Probably the biggest achievement is the fact he has won it three times in a row yet he hasn’t lost any of his hunger or his desire to improve and to win.
“He’s such a special individual but he always comes across as someone who knows that football isn’t about individuals - he wants to win as a team.
“He is the first player to ever win the award four times in a row, and I don’t think that will ever be repeated.
“It shows you how special and how unique he is - and the scary thing is his best is yet to come.”
Messi’s incredible year, which saw him set a new record for number of goals scored in a calendar year (91), has led to favourable comparisons with countryman Diego Maradona.
And Martinez predicts Messi will eventually be regarded as better than even the great man if he can replicate his success with Barcelona on the international stage.
“You look at Diego Maradona, a player very similar to him, and he won the World Cup and took Argentina to another final,” Martinez added.
“That’s probably all that Messi is missing from his career at the moment.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see a better player at club level, but the next step is probably for him to repeat his achievements at international level.
“And when he does that, then he’ll be able to get the full recognition - if he doesn’t have it already - for his undoubted quality.
“The way he conducts himself is also magnificent.
“You sometimes get a genius on the pitch that comes with bad behaviour and misconduct off the pitch.
“Messi is the complete opposite - he is so grounded, so educated and is the perfect example of how a modern footballer should be.”
Much has also been made of the fictional Team of the Year, with all 11 players being drawn from La Liga.
Martinez, though, is quick to stick up for the Premier League.
“You have to realise that this is the best ever Barcelona team, and you also have a Real Madrid team that has taken advantage of so much investment to pip them to the league last year,” he acknowledged.
“In addition, the core of the team that has won the last three major championships with Spain come from those two clubs.
“I still feel the Premier League is still the best in the world in many, many ways, and our teams can look to Barcelona and Real Madrid as incentive to get even better.
“Remember that Chelsea won the Champions League last year, beating Barcelona along the way, so it’s not all one way.”