Messi, who has won the prize for the last three years running, joins Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Andrés Iniesta on the 2012 shortlist.
The 25-year-old Argentina international finished the year with a staggering 91 goals to his name for club and country after breaking Gerd Mueller’s 40-year-old record of having netted the most strikes in a calendar year.
Mueller was full of praise for the diminutive Argentine after seeing Messi surpass his tally of 85 goals from 1972.
“My record stood for 40 years – 85 goals in 60 games – and now the best player in the world has broken it,” said Mueller. “I’m delighted for him. He is an incredible player. He’s such a nice and modest professional, and I hope he gets one or two more goals in 2012 and that he can then hold on to the record for the next 40 years.”
Odds-on favourite Messi, however, faces stiff competition from Real Madrid star Ronaldo, whose 46 league goals last season helped fire Los Blancos to their 32nd La Liga title. Ronaldo also scored three of Portugal’s six goals at last summer’s European championship as they reached the semi-finals.