The Barcelona star has been tipped as one of the front-runners for the 2012 Ballon d'Or award after a record-breaking season in 2011-12 when he scored 50 goals in La Liga and 73 in all club competitions.

Sabella said the three-time player of the year has improved since being made skipper, despite having to shoulder more responsibility.

"He is happy, since he has been given the captaincy I think he has done well," the 57-year-old told Fox Sports.

"I think he has become better; he has matured and feels happier. The weight of expectation on him was already there in the group, but now with the captaincy it is even greater."

Sabella feels that his captain has a good understanding with his fellow attackers at international level.

"Messi and (Sergio) Aguero undoubtedly have great empathy and understand each other well. But Messi also plays very well with (Gonzalo) Higuain," he said.

"Obviously when you have players of that ability, the idea is to try to have consistency; have Messi always playing with Higuain or Aguero or with them both," the ex-Estudiantes coach said.