After being worn for two years in a row by Ronaldo, football's crown has passed on to a new king: Zinedine Zidane. The French player was well ahead of his Brazilian predecessor when the votes cast for 1998 by the national coaches of FIFA member associations were counted, with Davor Suker of Croatia coming in third.
FIFA and its President Sepp Blatter invited everyone who's anyone in the game, and they all arrived for the presentation ceremony, which was part of the gala evening for the World Footballer of the Year. The honour of hosting this event for 1999 went to the city of Barcelona, and the organisation was led jointly by ESM (European Sports Magazines), the Spanish football journal Don Balon and the International Football Hall of Champions.
All the big names in football assembled in the National Theatre of Catalonia, with 500 guests in all, plus 200 media representatives, in attendance mainly to pay tribute to the three players nominated for the top award. The new winner of the title naturally got the biggest round of applause, clearly outstripping his rivals in the voting, with even Ronaldo and Suker being left way behind. A feature of the voting was that only players who had made an impression during the FIFA World Cup™ had any chance at all, the same situation as had been seen four years earlier after USA 94. A slight change in the voting regulations had been made this time - with coaches allowed to vote for members of their own team - and the national trainers who participated (132 of them, another record) were clearly of the opinion that the man who scored two goals in the FIFA World Cup final in Paris was their first choice.
The packed programme of the Gala evening saw a number of other honours being awarded. New names were added to the list of members of The International Football Hall of Fame, like Bobby Moore, Gerd Muller, Garrincha, Just Fontaine and Dino Zoff. The Barcelona-based magazine Don Balon celebrated its 25th anniversary and made a number of presentations of national importance, while all the FIFA World Cup honours, for example, the adidas trophies for top goalscorer and best player, were also awarded. In addition there was the FIFA Fair Play prize, as well as recognition for two teams from the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking list - the Top Team and the Most Improved Team of the year. In all, 32 awards were presented, probably a record in itself.
The Footballer of the Year event has grown far beyond its original status and is now one of the main events on the social and media calendar. TV coverage was wider than ever before, especially in Europe. The 90-minute programme was televised by TV Catalunya, and broadcast all over Spain, as well as directly to a number of other countries, such as Greece, England and Germany, while others were able to see it in recorded or excerpt form. Next year, the show will move to Brussels to honour the top player of 1999, and FIFA's local partners then will be the two ESM members Voetbal International (a Dutch magazine) and the weekly Foot Magazine (published in Brussels).