The Zurich Opera House was the setting for a magical night as the FIFA World Player Gala 2007 came to town on 17 December. In an event packed with football, emotion and music, Brazilian stars Kaka and Marta left with the FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player titles respectively, having been chosen by coaches and captains from around the globe.
Switzerland's Suisse Rainer Maria Salzgeber and Austria's Arabella Kiesbauer were the hosts as the evening kicked off with a video presentation of the three male and female nominees. From among those watching with interest in the auditorium, it was easy to make out the faces of Franz Beckenbauer, Otto Rehhagel and Bobby Charlton, proof that the cream of world football had turned out in force to discover the identity of the 2007 FIFA World Player!
The song 'Tonight' from the ever-popular musical West Side Story accompanied the videos of the six hopefuls, before it was time for a look back over the whole year from FIFA's perspective. Questioned from the auditorium, President Blatter was eager to stress that "We're part of the biggest and most popular family in the world, the football family. We're a billion-strong and I want to give a message of hope because I hope together we can build a better world."
In terms of the game itself, world football's organising body enjoyed a busy 2007, overseeing the FIFA U-20 World Cup, FIFA U-17 World Cup, FIFA Women's World Cup, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. As the adidas Golden Ball winners from those tournaments, Tony Kroos (U-17), Sergio Aguero (U-20), Marta (Women's), Buru (Beach Soccer) and Kaka (Club) all got to see their exploits replayed on screen before taking to the stage to receive a diploma.
The spotlight then fell on the FIFA Fair Play award, and this year the honour went to FC Barcelona, who opted to promote the charity UNICEF on their shirts as opposed to a commercial sponsor. Club President Joan Laporta collected the award from the stage.
The next distinction to be conferred was the FIFA Presidential
Award, with the recipient none other than Pele himself, as
recognition for his entire, legendary career. More than 50 years
after making his
Seleçao debut in July 1957, the king of football was
barely able to conceal his joy: "I have to share this award
with all my friends because, in this life, you can achieve nothing
on your own. I'd also like to share it with my wife and family,
and with God."
The festivities were now building to a crescendo as 'Summertime', the famous song from Porgy and Bess, reverberated around the Opera House. After that, it was time for the announcement of the 2007 FIFA World Player and FIFA Women's World Player, with the ladies naturally going first. Franz Beckenbauer opened an envelope, read out Marta's name and thereby signalled the Brazil striker's second successive coronation. Visibly moved, Marta announced: "I would like to thank God for allowing me to have this moment of great joy, and of course, I give thanks to all of my team-mates for my club and national team."
What had been an extraordinary evening was then close to its climax when Pele climbed on stage to declare the winner of the 2007 FIFA World Player Trophy. Fittingly perhaps, O Rei handed the prize over to another Brazilian, Kaka, based on the votes of the coaches and captains of national teams the world over. Having just jetted in from Japan, where he helped AC Milan win the FIFA Club World Cup, the 25-year-old was above all modest as he received the award, saying: "It is a very special day for me. When I was a boy, I used to dream about becoming a professional player and playing with Sao Paulo and maybe one match for the Brazilian national team. But the Bible says that life gives you more than you ask for, and that is what has happened to me."
With that, the ceremony drew to a close to the sound of 'The Impossible Dream', the classic standard from Man of La Mancha and a concept with which Kaka is unlikely to be familiar. Having just been named FIFA World Player for the first time in his career, the Auriverde playmaker will surely feel nothing is beyond his reach.