Memories are made of this
© Foto-net

With the 2009 FIFA World Player Gala at the Zurich Kongresshaus just days away, FIFA.com takes a trip down memory lane to look back at the previous editions of this prestigious gathering.

The first FIFA World Player of the year trophy was awarded in 1991 to Lothar Matthaus, captain of the German FIFA World Cup-winning team at Italy 1990. Since then, the Gala has been held on a further 18 occasions, during which time a range of new awards have seen the light of day. In 2001, American star Mia Hamm became the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, and this was followed by the establishment of the FIFA Presidential award, conferred in honour of a lifetime of service or an exemplary attitude. The recipient of the inaugural award was the Trinidad and Tobago player, Marvin Lee.

In August 1993, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking was launched, quickly becoming the yardstick by which international teams’ performances were measured. This led to the introduction of two additional awards, Team of the Year and Best Mover of the Year.

The FIFA Fair Play Award is the oldest accolade on offer, predating the World Player Gala and symbolising the importance with which the world governing body treats sporting behaviour. This award was first bestowed upon the fans of Scottish club Dundee United back in 1987, and a variety of deserving recipients have been honoured since then, including clubs, national teams, football associations, individual players and supporters’ groups.

The emergence of new technology is also reflected at the Gala where, since 2004, the annual award for the FIFA Interactive World Player has been presented. And the newest prize of all is the FIFA Development Award, conferred for the first time at last year’s ceremony.

Roll of honour
To date, the 18 Gala evenings have produced just 13 winners of the grand prize, due to some notable players lifting the trophy on more than one occasion – such as Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000 and 2003) and Ronaldo (1996, 1997 and 2002). In terms of national origins, Brazil has enjoyed the most success, boasting five FIFA World Players: the aforementioned Il Fenomeno, Ronaldinho (2004 and 2005), Romario (1994), Rivaldo (1999) and Kaka (2007) have all written their names in football history.

In the land of the samba, it is not just male footballers who rule, however, as Marta has demonstrated by winning the FIFA Women’s World Player award for the last three years. The skilful Brazilian was preceded by Germany’s Birgit Prinz, also a three-time winner, while the first two awards went to Mia Hamm. It is worth noting that the evergreen Prinz and Marta have been nominated again for 2009. Whether we witness more Brazilian tears of joy, German cool or something entirely different from another nominee in Zurich on 21 December remains to be seen.

In the shadow of this Brazilian domination, we have seen some shining lights from other nations over the years – Portugal is one of only two other countries to have provided the winner on more than one occasion (Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 and Luis Figo in 2001), the other being Italy (Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and Roberto Baggio in 1993). Completing the roll of honour of FIFA World Players are Marco van Basten (Netherlands, 1992) and George Weah (Liberia, 1995), who remains the only recipient not from South America (eight winners) or Europe (nine). Not content with picking up football’s ultimate accolade, the Liberian proceeded to win the FIFA Fair Play Award the following year.

Nominated in 2007 and 2008, will Argentina’s Lionel Messi finally take the top prize this year and give South America its first non-Brazilian winner?

As of last year, the principal Gala awards comprise five male and five female nominees, with just one trophy presented in each category, bringing to an end the tradition of silver and bronze awards for second and third place.

A new development for the FIFA World Player Gala 2009 is that the star-studded ceremony will not, as in past years, be held in the magnificent Zurich Opera House but in the Kongresshaus, situated within the same Swiss city. The reason for this is simple: a need for greater space to match the growing numbers of guests and official FIFA partners.

Stay tuned to FIFA.com in the coming days for all the news of another end-of-year extravaganza for world football’s family.