Established in 1991, the FIFA World Player of the Year award is handed out annually to the player who best encompasses the finer attributes of the beautiful game. Speed, skill, vision, creativity, passion and results all come into play when the votes are tabulated. And though some may quibble at length about the voting process or myriad other factors affecting the outcome, it is clear that certain trends are at work when it comes time to crown a particular year's king (and queen - the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award was established in 2001).

Devised in 1991 under the stewardship of then-FIFA President Joao Havelange to honour the previous year's top performer, the laurel has become the most-coveted individual prize on the face of planet football. And, in addition to citing the accomplishments of one solitary individual, the award - voted on by national team coaches and captains has followed in line through the years with some rather telling trends.

The award - since its inception - has never gone to a player plying his trade outside of the European theatre, duly establishing the 'old continent' as the epicentre and spiritual home of the modern game.

Despite the nod to Europe as home to the world's most powerful leagues and clubs, Brazil still hold sway - by a long mile - as the producer of the most FIFA World Player of the Year holders. Long known as the home of 'romantic football', Brazil - in addition to their five FIFA World Cups - can claim no less than seven winners of the crown, four more than next-best France. Also, a Brazilian has finished in third-place on two occasions and in second three times. That said, in the 15 times the award has been given out there has been a Brazilian on the podium on 12 occasions. In this year's list, there are three Brazilians: two-time holder Ronaldinho, AC Milan's Kaka and cross-town rival Adriano.

By contrast, Brazil's age-old South American rivals Argentina must bristle after a brief glance at the historical charts. No one would deny Maradona's pre-eminence in football circles. But, as the award was established in 1991, El Diego's dominance ever so slightly pre-dated the mark.

Albiceleste fans can take heart in the fact that goal king Gabriel Batistuta finished in third-place in 1999 - a best ever showing for the football-mad nation. Ahead of 'Batigol' that year was England's David Beckham (2nd) and Brazilian Rivaldo.  This year, Argentina could pull off a coup and will be banking on lone nominee Juan Roman Riquelme of Villarreal who recently announced his retirement from the Argentine national team.   

History made in 1995
In 1995, George Weah created quite a sensation by becoming the first (and only to date) African player to win the game's top honour. The Liberian striker and AC Milan legend could well be joined this year by Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon), Didier Drogba (Côte d'Ivoire) or Michael Essien (Ghana).

Only seven nations have produced a FIFA World Player of the Year: Brazil (7) France (3), Germany, Italy, Portugal, Liberia and the Netherlands (all one). Among the non-winning nations, England have the most runners-up and third-place finishes with three second-place spots and two third-place nods.

Every time the award has been given during a FIFA World Cup year, it has gone to a member of the winning side. Lothar Matthaus of Germany took the first prize in 1991 and in 1994 goal king Romario of Brazil toppled the rest. In 1998 Zinedine Zidane took the laurels and in 2002 it went to Ronaldo. This is surely one bit of history that can not be seen as a coincidence. And Italian nominees for 2006 - Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso - must all be quaking with anticipation in hopes of joining the only Azzurri world player of the year, Roberto Baggio (1993).

And although only two players - Ronaldinho in 2004 and 2005, and Ronaldo in 1996 and 1997 - have repeated the award in consecutive years on the men's side, the FIFA Women's World Player of the year prize - which has been in existence since 2001 - has only ever been won by two players, both of whom have done so on consecutive occasions.

Mia Hamm of the USA won the award in 2001 and 2002 and the last three years have been dominated by a hat-trick from Germany striker Birgit Prinz who - at last year's Gala - became the only player (man or woman) to win the award on three occasions.

The winners (male):
2005 - Ronaldinho (BRA)
2004 - Ronaldinho (BRA)
2003 - Zinedine Zidane (FRA)
2002 - Ronaldo (BRA)
2001 - Luis Figo (POR)
2000 - Zinedine Zidane (FRA)
1999 - Rivaldo (BRA)
1998 - Zinedine Zidane (FRA)
1997 - Ronaldo (BRA)
1996 - Ronaldo (BRA)
1995 - George Weah (LBR)
1994 - Romario (BRA)
1993 - Roberto Baggio (ITA)
1992 - Marco van Basten (NED)
1991 - Lothar Matthäus (GER)

The winners (female):
2005 - Birgit Prinz (GER)
2004 - Birgit Prinz (GER)
2003 - Birgit Prinz (GER)
2002 - Mia Hamm (USA)
2001 - Mia Hamm (USA)