A new chapter in football was opened with the news that France Football’s Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award have been merged. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter signed an agreement with Amaury Group President Marie-Odile Amaury in Johannesburg on Monday, meaning that the world’s best player will from now on be awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or each year.
“I’m happy to be speaking about the players today as they are football’s true protagonists,” said President Blatter. “I’m delighted that Marie-Odile Amaury and France Football have extended a hand to FIFA. As a result, we have accomplished an idea that has been discussed at FIFA for a number of years now, and no doubt at France Football too: we’re going to combine our talents and experience to create a single reward for the world’s best player. It will be known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or.”
Mrs Amaury added: “I’m very happy that we are teaming up with FIFA to select and present the Ballon d’Or to the best player in the world. We’ll be adding even more glory and value to this prize, and we will now be holding an even more spectacular ceremony, which will make it possible for us to reach everyone who loves the game. We are tremendously proud.”
Also at the press conference was former Liberia international George Weah - still the only African player to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year award and France Football's Ballon d’Or. “To receive an award like this makes any player immensely proud,” he said. “Not just for himself, but for the continent he represents as well. It’s also a challenge because you have to work hard and have your work recognised by players, coaches and journalists. Because of that, the award has huge value and it’s a real mission to try to stay at the same level.”
The Ballon d’Or came into existence in 1956, and until 1994 it was presented to the best player from a European nation playing club football in a European league. Players no longer had to be European after a relaxing of the rules in 1995, but they still had to ply their trade on the Old Continent until 2007, when that condition was removed as well. The FIFA Player of the Year award operated according to the most recent version of those criteria after its creation in 1991.
The first Ballon d’Or was handed to Stanley Matthews in 1956, the 41-year-old English winger pipping Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa to the prize. Then, 35 years later, the inaugural FIFA Player of the Year award went to German midfielder Lothar Matthaus, with Jean-Pierre Papin and Gary Lineker second and third in the standings.
Since 2005, the two honours have always gone to the same players, with Ronaldinho recognised in 2005, Fabio Cannavaro singled out in 2006, Kaka taking the plaudits in 2007, and 2008 winner Cristiano Ronaldo then giving way to Lionel Messi last year.
In practical terms, the new FIFA Ballon d’Or award will represent a fusion in terms of voting procedure as well. Votes will now come from the coaches and captains of international teams – as was previously the case for the FIFA Player of the Year – and also from journalists, who used to nominate France Football's Ballon d’Or winner.
“This electoral college of players, coaches and journalists will make for more balance and better representation,” explained Francois Moriniere, managing director of L’Equipe and France Football. “It will also be a worldwide college of journalists, rather than a uniquely European one. All these things will lend the award more credibility.”
The 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or award ceremony will be a televised event held in Zurich, Switzerland on 10 January 2011. “Football has become universal, so it is a good thing to present just one prize to the world’s best player,” concluded President Blatter. “With this agreement, football is the real winner.”