Luis Figo is the FIFA World Player of the Year for 2001. The talented Portuguese playmaker heads the list for the first time ever, having finished second in last year's vote. England captain David Beckham came second in the voting, with Figo's Real Madrid team-mate, Raul of Spain, finishing third. In the women's category, USA star Mia Hamm topped the list ahead of China PR's Sun Wen and her fellow American Tiffeny Milbrett.
Compared with the 2000 poll, this year's result was much closer. Figo finished with 250 points, ahead of Beckham (238), who again has to settle for second place, having also come close in 1999. Positions three to five were even more keenly contested. 130 national coaches cast their votes, with Raul securing 96 points, just ahead of last year's winner, Zinedine Zidane (France, 94 points), and the 1999 FIFA World Player of the Year, Rivaldo (Brazil, 92 points).
The national coaches have duly recognised the remarkable performances of both Figo and Beckham at club and international level over the past 12 months. Figo, so outstanding at UEFA EURO 2000, continued to sparkle, leading Portugal to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and Real Madrid to Spanish La Liga glory. Beckham played a pivotal role in helping England to secure top place in their group after their inconsistent start and also helped Manchester United to yet another league title in England.
72 coaches named both Figo and Beckham in their top three players of the year. Beckham received top billing from 30 coaches, while 27 saw Figo as the outstanding player of the last 12 months. Each top rank is worth five points in the overall voting. Figo pipped Beckham to the crown as he received a total of 35 second place votes, as opposed to Beckham's 23.
The women's vote was not quite so close. Hamm secured 154 points, making her the first-ever FIFA Women's World Player of the Year. 72 national coaches cast their votes, with Sun of China receiving 79 points and Milbrett of the USA finishing third on 47.
"It's a great honour," said Hamm. "But more importantly, I think it's wonderful that FIFA has instituted this award and to see the progress that women's soccer has made with FIFA has been tremendous. The first step was the first world championship in 1991. That was a historic stride for us, to get our own world championship. In 1999, for the tournament to be universally known as the Women's World Cup after being called a world championship in the two previous tournaments, was a big step. It helped legitimize our sport to the world."
Hamm has long been one of the top women players in the world, and is a modern-day idol in her homeland. China's Sun, whose popularity stretches across the whole continent of Asia, will be hoping to lead her team-mates to their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup title in 2003. Tiffeny Milbrett can look back on a successful opening season in WUSA, the women's professional league in America, in which she finished as top scorer with 20 goals in just 16 games.