For having enthralled football fans the world over throughout 2011, the sport’s best players and coaches deserve all the recognition that comes their way. And recognised they were, at the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala staged in Zurich on Monday 9 January.
Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola scooped the principal awards in men’s football for their performances on the pitch and on the bench respectively, while in the female category Homare Sawa was crowned FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, and Japan’s Norio Sasaki won the coaching equivalent.
It was also a good night for Neymar, whose exceptional mazy run past flailing Flamengo defenders and ensuing goal persuaded FIFA.com users to bestow the FIFA Puskas Award upon the young Brazil striker.
Here, FIFA.com rounds up some of the best quotes from a memorable Gala evening.
The award recipients
“I’m very proud to have won it three times, especially one after the other. It’s hard to win one, let alone three. I’m very happy and this award gives me as much pleasure as the first,” 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi
“It was a very exciting night. It was actually when I heard the name of my international coach being announced as Women’s Coach of the Year that my legs started to shake and I began to feel very excited and nervous. And then when I heard my own name, my mind just went blank. I almost couldn’t believe it,” 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa
“There’s a bit of cause-and-effect going on, because when you win titles individual recognition comes hand in hand. At the end of the day we’re fortunate both because we’ve won these prizes and because we're happy to have received so much praise for the way we’ve played. We hope to stay on this path in order to live nights like this again,” FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football Pep Guardiola
“Just being here is one thing, but winning this award is simply overwhelming. Winning the World Cup was a fantastic moment – both for us and Japan. This award is recognition from the world of football for our courage and effort. It's something I want to take back to Japan, where the people are so happy right now,” FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football Norio Sasaki
“I was almost in a state of shock. I'm delighted to have won the award, though, and I’m very grateful to all my team-mates for their help in what’s been a wonderful year. I think it’s the best goal I’ve ever scored,” 2011 FIFA Puskas Award winner Neymar
“It’s not something you can ever be completely certain about, but for the moment, Messi’s definitely on top. But we shouldn’t forget that when he plays for Argentina, he doesn’t get his own way as much. He’s surrounded by great players when he plays for his club. It’s just like me. Although I won the Ballon d'Or, I had some brilliant team-mates around me. You never reach No1 all by yourself,” 1958 Ballon d’Or winner Raymond Kopa
“Let him finish his career. Things go very quickly in football. You know, when Ronaldinho won his first Ballon d'Or, in 2005, I said: 'He's going to win a lot more, this guy.' And he didn't win any more after that [Editor's note: Ronaldinho was FIFA World Player in 2004 and 2005 and Ballon d'Or winner in 2005]. But Messi is the whole package. He needs to have players of Barcelona’s quality around him, but he’s a born finisher. He seems very nice off the pitch, but to score the kind of goals that he does, you have to have a real killer instinct. In football, you don’t win anything if you’re too nice,” three-time (1983, 1984 and 1985) Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini
“Messi is currently the world’s best player, so it was right that he won. He may well be the best player of all time. But we’ll find out in time. In the coming years, we’ll see if he really is No1,” two-time (1972, 1976) Ballon d’Or winner Franz Beckenbauer
“Is Messi the best, second best or third best player of all time? Can I give a number between one and 1,000? Let’s just say he’s one of the best of all time,” three-time (1988, 1989 and 1992) Ballon d’Or winner Marco van Basten
“Congratulations, Messi! A deserved win. As I’ve said before, you’ll go on to win it two or three times more. Continue to act humbly. Great news as well for Guardiola and Barcelona. I’d also like to say congratulations to Neymar for his goal. The time will come when you’ll be voted the world’s best player too,” 1999 Ballon d’Or winner Rivaldo
On the web
“Congratulations to Lionel Messi. Third time in a row – class act,” Manchester City midfielder Nigel De Jong, via Twitter
“Congratulations to Lionel Messi for winning the Ballon d’Or again. He’s really making his mark on the history of global football,” Atletico Madrid forward Radamel Falcao, via Twitter
“The boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, has been given the FIFA Presidential Award for services to football. It’s well deserved; the man is a born winner. Messi is the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or winner and rightly so. Ronaldo and Xavi have been top quality, but this guy was on another planet,” Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand via Twitter
Messi, Guardiola and Barcelona earn plaudits
“You don’t have to be a genius to realise that Barcelona are the best team around; they’re truly extraordinary. Of course, Real Madrid aren’t that far away, but I don’t see any team stopping them from coming out on top at the end of the season,” Manchester United coach and FIFA World Coach of the Year nominee Sir Alex Ferguson
“Messi’s a top-notch, world-class player. His skills are obviously impressive, but it’s his ability to continually put those skills to good use that really astounds me. He’s a player who’s also been fortunate with injuries so far. He clocks up match after match and goal after goal. But I also like the way he handles himself: he’s humble, yet driven. He’s certainly not over-hyped. What I’m saying won’t surprise you that much, but I like him a lot as a player,” Lyon coach Remy Garde
“We don’t say it enough, but what Guardiola has done with Barcelona is truly admirable. He’s able to bring players together and lift them to the top of the game. Winning titles is like a drug to him. The Barça team is a mirror image of its coach: humble, hard-working, talented and ambitious. Guardiola has given a style and real identity to the side. I think he’s tremendous,” Lille coach and 2011 FIFA World Coach of the Year nominee Rudi Garcia
“For me, Messi the artist is a deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or. The player who controls the match and brings others into play is Xavi, but the one that really makes the difference is Messi. In any game, and at any moment. In my opinion, he’s better than Cristiano Ronaldo and everyone else. A player like Messi doesn’t come along very often in football. Now, as for whether or not he would be as successful without Iniesta and Xavi, well, that’s another question,” former Barcelona forward Sonny Anderson
“Others have been trying to catch up with him for some time now, but he always pulls away from them. I think he’s here to stay, because he leads a fairly normal, healthy and down-to-earth life, far removed from tabloid headlines. He’s also a player who lives and breathes football,” former France coach Raymond Domenech
Japan to the fore
“It’s a very encouraging sign for this new year that only started a few days ago. I am very proud of Homare Sawa,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
“Having Sawa and Sasaki recognised in this way is a first for Asia. It’s incredible. However, it also means that the Japanese women’s team will now become a big target. Everyone will be trying to beat them at the Olympic Football Tournament in London this year. It’s an exciting new challenge,” Japanese FA President Junji Ogura