Seeing their names listed among the best players on Planet Football is nothing new for the three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Xavi. Yet, when got together with each of them soon after the shortlist was announced, the stellar trio were no less enthusiastic about being in the running for the coveted individual prize – just recognition for their phenomenal displays over the past year.

We spoke to the three superstars and asked them the same questions about the year they have had and the trophy which will be awarded today in Zurich:

How much does it mean to be among the three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or?

Cristiano Ronaldo:
It’s extremely important, because it’s an individual award that means a great deal to us players. Of course, winning trophies with our teams matters more, but this kind of individual recognition is important too – for me and for every footballer. I’ve got marvellous memories of 2008: a year when my club was successful and I was also crowned with this individual award.

Lionel Messi:
It’s marvellous. It’s incredible to be chosen when there are so many quality players around the world. To be in the top three is a privilege and to have achieved that for the fifth year in a row is simply wonderful.

Xavi: This is hugely important to me. It makes me proud and happy to get this recognition for my work. Everyone likes to be recognised in their field though, to be honest, when I started out I never thought I’d be among the top three (in the world). My aim was to be successful with Barça, break into the Spanish national side and make a living in football – the game I love so much – but I never thought I’d go so far. I’ve been in the running for this award for a few years now, which is fantastic. It’s a sign that what Barça and Spain are doing is working, because my game’s more about the team [than sparkling individually]. I’m someone who puts his side before himself.

What are your personal highlights of 2011?

Cristiano Ronaldo:
Well, with Real Madrid I’d certainly go for the Copa del Rey, which we won. Another was Portugal successfully qualifying for the EURO [2012], because we’d been in a very tricky situation. And, finally, winning the [European] Golden Shoe for last season [2010/11]. I think that those are the three highlights I’d pick.

Lionel Messi: It’s not easy, because we experienced so many great things. But I think I’ll go for the Champions League title celebrations; the tie against Real Madrid – because of how important clásicos are, especially one in the semi-finals of the Champions League; and winning another Spanish title. Those are the moments that most stand out, but it was an excellent year overall.

Xavi: There are loads of highlights from 2011 because we played so many matches, so many of which were at the highest level. I think that I’ll go for the moments when we clinched trophies: winning the La Liga title and particularly winning the Champions League at Wembley, which was an echo of Barcelona’s first European Cup title – thanks to that goal from [Ronald] Koeman [in 1992]. Getting the better of a great team like Manchester United and playing lovely football to boot. There are so many games to choose from but I’ll stick with the moments we won titles - they’re the most eye-catching and memorable.

We’d like you to say a little something about your two fellow contenders. Which of their qualities most catch your eye?

Cristiano Ronaldo: Lionel Messi is a fantastic player who’s played really well for the last three or four years and who’s part of a spectacular team, who give him really great support. There’s no doubt that, just like in recent years, he had a fantastic season. And I could say pretty much the same about Xavi, who’s a great player not just for Barcelona but for Spain too. He’s an excellent player, someone who loves to create chances for others. That’s why I’m so proud to be among the three players chosen.

Lionel Messi: Well, we’re talking about two truly great, very complete players in Xavi and Cristiano. But, at the same time, the three of us are all very different with different characteristics. The main thing, in my view, is that they’re both very complete players.

Xavi: Pep Guardiola once said that Messi has mastered every aspect of the game, and it’s true. He’s good at everything, everything. He’s got that winning mentality which makes him the best in the world and he’s got such skill and speed of execution – things that I for example don’t have. My game’s about mental [rather than physical] quickness. Messi does everything in a fraction of a second; the ability he has to beat three or four men is something that I can’t and never will be able to do. But there are loads of aspects to his game: he scores goals, is good in the air despite his small size, but the main thing is his personality: he’s humble, a winner and he always puts the squad first. He’s an example for the whole of world football and for any child who wants to play the game.

Cristiano is another spectacular player, one who has mastered an incredible number of aspects of the game. His aerial ability, for example, is extremely strong, then you have his shooting, ability to score from set-pieces, his dribbling, the pace to get away from two or three players on the break and get to the byline. He, like Leo, is a player who’s capable of tipping the balance all by himself with individual skill, and that’s really impressive.

What message would you like to send to those who voted you the best player of 2011?

Cristiano Ronaldo: The only message I could send is ‘thank you very much’ for choosing me as the best player. It’s something that makes me really happy and proud. Thanks very much!

Lionel Messi: What I’d do is be thankful. I’m eternally grateful to those who thought of me, because it’s not easy to be among the best, even more so for five years straight. So, I’m very thankful to those people who, once more, selected me among the three finalists.

Xavi: I have to be very thankful, because it’s incredible to be enjoying moments like these that I never thought I’d experience. This is a team game, not an individual one and, being a player who depends so much on his team-mates, I think that me being here is slightly representative of that. It’s a huge source of pride to have been put in this situation.