Dressed up to the nines and armed with a trusty camera, FIFA.com was at the FIFA World Player Gala 2008 to capture all the action and reaction from the star-studded event. Making themselves available for interview were all the nominees for the annual global award, as well as a host of current and former legends of the beautiful game.
The first interview of the night was with the show's co-presenter Sylvie van der Vaart, wife of Real Madrid midfield man Rafael, who was showing a few pre-Gala nerves despite her extensive television experience. "I've even been practising in front of my three-year-old son," said the wife of Real Madrid midfield man Rafael. "He cried the first time and roared with laughter the second. I'm not sure that's a good sign!"
Next stop for the FIFA.com cameras were the Gala's main protagonists: the ten nominees for the FIFA World Player awards, five in the men's and five in the women's category. All were more than pleased to recount their footballing experiences over the past year, both good or bad. Lionel Messi, for example, said that "having Diego Maradona in charge of the national team is a real bonus. He brings his experience to the mix and gives us an extra motivation, it's undeniable."
Ronaldo was the best this year. He scored 42 goals between the
Champions League and the English championship, both of which are
extremely difficult to win.
Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, was proud to have "scored lots of nice goals last season, so it's hard to single out just one. But I love watching my goals!" And Spanish schemer Xavi Hernandez gave his verdict on La Roja's eye-catching triumph at UEFA EURO 2008: "We won the EURO because we believed in our coach and in his style of play which was great to watch. Even when he was under fire, we had faith in him."
Over in the women's category, England forward Kelly Smith professed her delight at "being in Zurich for this Gala. To be chosen among the five best players in the world, alongside the likes of Marta or Birgit Prinz, is incredible."
German shot-stopper Nadine Angerer was also fiercely proud to be included in the top five, with her highlight of 2008 being "a successful Olympic Tournament with a bronze medal thrown in", while three-time FIFA Women's World Player Marta was already thinking about next year's award: "Can I win a fourth title next year? Why not! That said, there are a lot of quality players around who will also be aiming for this title, so it will all depend on our respective performances."
Also gracing the red carpet at the Gala were a host of veritable legends of the world game. Chief among them was arguably the greatest player of all time, Pele, who was thoroughly enjoying "this family celebration. It's important to get together from time to time. I still get recognised, even by kids as young as ten. Maybe that's because I've not lost my hair yet!" joked O Rei.
German icon Franz Beckenbauer, for his part, joined in the banter by suggesting that "however fast Cristiano Ronaldo runs, he'll never catch King Pele!"
Cameroon idol Roger Milla felt that there was nothing to choose between the five men nominated as far as quality was concerned, but confessed a preference for "Lionel Messi, because he won the Olympic Tournament and played well at club level with Barcelona". Bobby Charlton, meanwhile, had his Red Devils' hat firmly in place for the occasion: "[Cristiano] Ronaldo was the best this year. He scored 42 goals between the Champions League and the English championship, both of which are extremely difficult to win."
To hear what all the stars of the beautiful game had to say at Gala night in Zurich, just click on the link on the right-hand side.