The FIFA World Player of the Year award was launched in 1991 by then-FIFA President Joao Havelange and in 2001, the event was expanded to include an award for best female player.
In the intervening nine years, three outstanding players have shared the coveted title between them: Mia Hamm of the United States, Germany's Birgit Prinz and the brilliant Brazilian, Marta.
The three players short-listed for the inaugural women's award in 2001 were Mia Hamm, her US compatriot Tiffeny Milbrett and China's Sun Wen. When the judges - 72 national coaches - cast their votes at Zurich's TV Production Centre, the result proved to be a runaway victory for the charismatic Hamm.
The following year, in Madrid, Hamm was once again up again Sun Wen, along with a shooting star on the women's scene, Birgit Prinz. For the young German striker, this was a first appearance at the event she was destined to dominate in the years to come. On this occasion, however, Hamm was not to be denied, retaining her title with ease ahead of Prinz, with Sun Wen finishing a distant third.
However, by 2003, Birgit Prinz's time had come. She starred as Germany swept all before them on their way to victory at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ USA 2003, beating Sweden after extra time in a thrilling final. Her performances there made her front-runner for FIFA World Player of the Year, and she duly saw off the inevitable challenge from Mia Hamm, with Sweden's Hanna Ljungberg third.
Prinz and Hamm were once again among the three players shortlisted in 2004, alongside Brazil's Marta, who had turned in some impressive performances at the Olympic tournament in Athens. The 2004 World Player Gala in the Zurich Opera House put the icing on the cake of FIFA's centenary celebrations, and Birgit Prinz retained her title convincingly, earning 386 points - 100 more than Hamm, who just edged out Marta for second place.
The 2005 event looked like being a close contest between Prinz and Marta, with Shannon Boxx of the US making up the numbers. In the end, Birgit Prinz comfortably secured her third successive title ahead of the Brazilian, with Boxx well back in third.
Marta’s star was on the rise, however, and in 2006 – with Prinz failing to make the shortlist and Hamm enjoying her retirement – the then 20-year-old completed her ascent to the pinnacle of the female game. Kristine Lilly and Renate Lingor were her closest rivals on that occasion, but there was an inevitability to Marta’s coronation, with the award’s tearful recipient vowing to “work very hard in order to be here many times in the future".
She has been true to her word, retaining the title in 2007 after an outstanding FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign that ended with her clutching both the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe awards. Already the undisputed queen of women’s football, Marta has proved impossible to dethrone in the years since, winning again in 2008 before adding an unprecedented fourth FIFA World Player award in December of last year. And with 2010 having brought more success in the shape of a first WPS league winner’s medal, the Brazil and FC Gold Pride star is sure to take some stopping as she bids for five-in-a-row in Zurich on 11 January.
- 2009 Marta (BRA)
- 2008 Marta (BRA)
- 2007 Marta (BRA)
- 2006 Marta (BRA)
- 2005 Birgit Prinz (GER)
- 2004 Birgit Prinz (GER)
- 2003 Birgit Prinz (GER)
- 2002 Mia Hamm (USA)
- 2001 Mia Hamm (USA)