The FIFA World Player of the Year gala evening in Milan on 8 January proved to be a great football party, with George Weah (Liberia, AC Milan), Paolo Maldini (Italy, AC Milan) and Jurgen Klinsmann (Germany, Bayern Munich) the three prizewinners.
Weah, dubbed the "star of stars" in the following day's Gazzetta dello Sport, rounded off a year in which he has won every major personal honour up for grabs: African Footballer of the Year, prize winner in the Golden Team of the French magazine Onze Mondial, European Footballer of the Year and now, to crown it all, FIFA World Player of the Year.
During the gala evening, Weah's award and his spontaneous behaviour were the absolute high point of the prize-giving ceremony. After being honoured by FIFA President João Havelange and FIFA Vice-president Lennart Johansson, the African star spontaneously gave his FIFA medal to Arsene Wenger, the man who had discovered him and developed his talent. This recognition of the former Monaco coach was a touching moment for many of the guests. Wenger too was visibly moved when Weah invited him up on to the stage.
Ninety-five coaches from all over the world had voted in the ballot and given Weah (170 points), a clear lead over his club colleague Maldini (80 points) and Klinsmann (58 points). This was the fifth time that this ballot had been carried out, a joint effort by FIFA, adidas and ESM (European Sports Magazines), and the prestige attached to the title and the gala celebration has grown steadily.
The whole event was superbly organised and perfectly staged by the TV company RT1, and other FIFA awards were given over the course of the evening. Based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, the president of the Brazilian Football Association (CBF), Ricardo Teixeira, received the award for the best team of the year on behalf of his national side, for the second time in a row. Jamaica, represented by association president Horace Burrell, took the award for the team with biggest points increase during the year.
Finally, Jacques Glassmann, who had uncovered the corruption associated with Olympique Marseille, was given the FIFA Fair Play Prize. The Italian national singers' team, represented by Eros Ramazotti and Gianni Morandi, were presented with the FIFA President's medal and also a cheque for over CHF 10,000 as a starter for their next charity.
And last but not least, the chief editor of the Gazzetta dello Sport, Candido Cannavo, was honoured by FIFA President Joao Havelange. The Gazzetta, celebrating its own 100th anniversary and hosting the FIFA World Player of the Year celebration, had more than earned this mark of respect.
It had been a sumptuous and unforgettable night in Milan, with Weah as the "star of stars".