Messi or Casillas?

“When I was a child I dreamt about winning the Champions League or the World Cup,” Xavi Hernandez deadpanned last year, when asked about his chances of taking the FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy home with him. Skilfully diffusing doubts about a possible source of jealousy between him and his club mates, the midfielder pointed to what stands true for the vast majority of professionals. Individual awards ceremonies may make a good show, but it is the major titles that count.

The forthcoming UEFA Best Player in Europe Award pits the likes of Xavi, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas and not to mention Bangor City winger Les Davies, up against each other, with the winner announced on August 30. The brainchild of UEFA President Michel Platini, the award is in its second year with Messi winning last year’s prize.

It is no surprise that eight of Spain’s Euro 2012 winning squad are in the running. Given the scale of La Roja’s achievement in winning back-to-back European Championships with a World Cup sandwiched in between, the frontrunner is Spain captain Iker Casillas. “If it is about rewarding the best player, then it’s him,” writes Javier Serrano in Marca.

But if the prize is based purely on individual achievement and brilliance, what of Messi? “It will never be unfair to give him the award,” declares Joan Battle in Sport. While Casillas’ performance levels and achievement are in no doubt, is it not somewhat short-sighted to overlook the historic goal-scoring record set by Messi last season , smashing Gerd Muller’s 40-year record with 73 in all competitions. “We cannot forget that it is an individual prize,” adds Battle.

While Messi’s sheer number of goals would push him in front of Ronaldo in the pecking order, back in the capital, Diaro AS see the nominations for the prize pointing to a power shift in the Spanish game. Real Madrid boast seven candidates for the award, Barcelona just four, behind Manchester City with six, and level with Chelsea.

The gulf in class between the Catalans and the Londoners in the Champions League semi-final ought to highlight the somewhat haphazard nature of judging teams on the number of nominations for an individual award, but in Madrid they see a bigger picture forming.

With shades of when Real Madrid paraded their Ballon d’Or winners having just signed Michael Owen, AS editor Alfredo Relano writes that should the signing of Luca Modric from Tottenham be secured soon, then Real will boast eight from the shortlist. “The team from the unforgettable years is showing signs of exhaustion,” he writes of Barcelona. “And Real Madrid are rearming.”

The pre-season is barely a day old and already the knives are out. In Barcelona they accuse the Madrid pack of ignoring Messi as a strong candidate for the prize. In Madrid they are certain that in light of the extraordinary achievements for the national team, a representative of La Roja must collect the award at the end of August – and that representative must be Casillas. Whether this award translates into another Real Madrid league title next season, however, remains to be seen.