Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes forward Sadio Mane can challenge Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or in years to come.
The Senegal international has been in sensational form in 2019 and actually won Messi’s vote in FIFA’s Best awards in September.
However, he finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or stakes behind the Barcelona forward, team-mate Virgil Van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi said it was “a shame” Mane finished fourth but Klopp does not expect that to be the case for much longer.
“The first three in the Ballon d’Or was Messi, Van Dijk, Cristiano and then Sadio. That’s a nice row. Having two players there shows a lot,” said the Reds boss.
“Mo was fifth and Alisson was seventh. We obviously played a good season and they had to respect that.
“Sadio is in incredible shape. Since the first day he came in he has been an incredibly important player.
“I can still remember his first goal, the Arsenal goal: running down the line, cutting inside and with the next step left-foot into the far corner.
“An incredible goal. And each year he made big steps and is in a good way.
“For an offensive player when Messi says something like this… Sadio, especially against Barcelona at home, was very impressive, it was like we had three of him on the pitch.
“If he stays healthy he will have an incredible career in front of him and I think he can climb in that Ballon d’Or table.
“But then some other people make decisions – not even Lionel Messi can decide that.”
Mane is Liverpool’s top scorer this season with 13 and at times was unplayable in the midweek Merseyside derby win over Everton which restored their eight-point lead at the top of the table.
Victory at Bournemouth, who have lost the last four, guarantees Klopp’s side are top at Christmas.
The Reds have been top on December 25 three times previously but remain the only club never to have gone on and won the Premier League from that position.
“I’ve told you often enough I am really not interested in these numbers and this history but that is part of the deal when you are in a good position,” said the manager.
“There are a lot of people who celebrate already, a lot of people who worry still and a lot of people who hope that you will still fail.
“I don’t listen to any of them. What that means for Christmas I never thought about.
“We need to be lucky that players stay fit and healthy. These are all things which worry us much more than who will be first at Christmas and what it means.”
Liverpool’s December programme has been complicated by their involvement in the Club World Cup, which will see them play two matches in Qatar later this month – the first 24 hours after a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa.
Weeks of speculation were ended when the designated 23-man squad travelling to Doha was published this week, naming all his first-team players plus youngsters Rhian Brewster, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams.
There is an outside chance Liverpool will try to field that youthful quartet in the Carabao Cup and then immediately fly them to Qatar to sit on the bench for their Club World Cup semi-final.
But Klopp said “not for one second” did he consider splitting the squad and leaving some senior players behind for the League Cup side, which will be managed by Under-23 boss Neil Critchley.
“We had to do it like this. I think it’s a really nice opportunity for the younger players to face that (Villa). I know everybody thinks ‘no chance’ but football is a wonderful game,” he said.
“There was absolutely no chance to do it differently, in the moment when it was clear when it would be played and all the other dates were absolutely not possible for us to play it later.
“At the end we will not suffer because of it. That’s not possible. If somebody thought I should have done it differently, I cannot change that.”