The FIFA World Player of the Year 2002 will be revealed in Madrid on 17 December. But even though this will be the 12th such award, the night is sure to be marked by a first. Whether a goalkeeper wins the award for the first time, or a player claims the honour for an unprecedented third time, Oliver Kahn, Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane will add another accolade to their already impressive list.
Up until now, the FIFA World Player of the Year trophy has hardly been kind to defensive stalwarts, with no defender or goalkeeper claiming this illustrious honour. Only Paolo Maldini and Roberto Carlos have reached the final three, finishing second to George Weah in 1995 and to Ronaldo in 1997 respectively. The nomination of keeper Kahn, therefore, is a small revolution in itself.
Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper has long impressed at the very highest level and his nomination is recognition of his consistency over many years. Although 2002 will not be remembered as one of Bayern’s vintage years (the club failed to win a trophy for the first time since 1995), Kahn certainly showed his class at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. As the last line of defence in a German team that surprised many with their run to the final, “Ollie” stood strong in the face of countless onslaughts, most notably against the USA and Korea Republic. In the final, he kept his team in the match for long periods, twice preventing Ronaldo from opening the scoring.
Ronaldo has also been nominated for this year’s FIFA World Player of the Year award. The Brazilian came back from years of injury problems just months before the FIFA World Cup™, but he certainly left an indelible mark on the tournament, scoring eight goals – a feat that had not been achieved since Mexico 1970 when the legendary Gerd Müller hit the back of the net on ten occasions. The “Fenomeno” is not exactly a stranger to records. In 1996 at the tender age of 20, he was the youngest ever player to be named FIFA World Player of the Year. Ronaldo followed that up just 12 months later by becoming the first player to win the award in two consecutive years. He will now be hoping to add a third title to his collection…
But he will also find his route blocked by a certain Zinedine Zidane, his team-mate at Real Madrid. The French playmaker is the only player on the shortlist not to have grabbed the headlines in Asia, with his team having been eliminated in the group stages. Paradoxically, that may well work in Zidane’s favour. Many observers attribute the reigning World Champions’ failure to reach the knockout stages to the fact that Zidane was forced to miss “Les Bleus” first two matches through injury. His influence was undoubtedly missed. This nomination, therefore, is primarily a reflection of his exceptional year in the colours of Real Madrid.
The Frenchman has quickly settled into life in the Spanish capital, providing ammunition for the stars around him such as Raul and Fernando Morientes, as well as scoring spectacular goals himself (seven in La Liga). However the one goal that stood out from the rest came in the final of the 2002 UEFA Champions League. Zidane spun on his right foot and sent a sublime left-foot volley arrowing into the top corner of the German goal to put his team firmly en route to a ninth title in Europe’s top club competition. Crowned FIFA Player of the Year in 1998 and 2000, “Zizou” will hope that the two-year cycle will repeat itself once more. All will be revealed in Madrid on 17 December!