Golden duo on top of the world

Hosted at the Zurich Kongresshaus, Monday evening’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala raised the curtain on the new decade in style. Attracting the cream of the footballing world, who had come to pay tribute to the leading players and coaches of 2010, the event reached its long-awaited climax with the award of the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or, a fusion of the FIFA World Player of the Year award and France Football magazine’s Ballon d’Or.

Sports journalists Pedro Pinto of CNN International and Carol Manana of SAB Sports were our compères for the evening, which began promptly at 18.30 CET with a dazzling performance by football freestylers Jeremy Lynch and William Wingrove. Their ball-juggling trickery earned warm applause from an illustrious audience, which contained a galaxy of great names.

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter then made a short welcome speech before inviting Francois Moriniere, the CEO of France Football, on to the stage to present an action-packed video showcasing the footballing highlights of 2010.

That look backwards was followed by a vision of the future as Steffi Jones, the President of the Local Organising Committee for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, set out her hopes for what will be one of the main events of the year ahead.

The time had then come to start handing out the awards, with the peerless former Netherlands striker Marco Van Basten stepping up to announce the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2010. The players in question were Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Maicon, Lucio, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Wesley Sneijder, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Villa, all of whom received a lengthy and deserved round of applause from the gallery.  

Taking centre stage after that star-studded side was none other than ex-South Africa legend Lucas Radebe, who turned the spotlight on another very special outfit, the Haiti women’s U-17 team. The youngsters from the Caribbean nation pocketed the FIFA Fair Play Award for their courage in continuing to fulfil their playing obligations despite the immense suffering caused by the earthquake that struck the country last January.

From one of the emotional highpoints of the evening it was on to one of the new awards of this year’s revamped ceremony, as Vicente del Bosque presented the award for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football to Silvia Neid, who saw off the challenge of Maren Meinert (GER) and Pia Sundhage (SWE).

The title of FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football went to Jose Mourinho, who took receipt of the trophy from Silvia Neid and received the applause of his two fellow nominees, Vicente del Bosque (ESP) and Pep Guardiola (ESP).

Blatter then returned to the stage to bestow the FIFA Presidential Award to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for his contribution in making the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ such a success. 

Next on the agenda was the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of 2010. After the audience had been treated to a video showing the ten magnificent strikes in the running for the accolade, a clearly elated Hamit Altintop collected his prize.

That left just two more prizes to be announced, but not before a musical interlude in the company of Jamie Cullum. No sooner had the English jazz singer’s dulcet tones died down than the spotlight turned on Fatmire Bajramaj (GER), Marta (BRA) and Birgit Prinz (GER), the three nominees for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. Following a short film summarising the trio’s achievements of 2010, the trophy was handed to an elated Marta. “It is another award for me, but that I wish to share with my colleagues from FC Gold Pride, Brazil and Santos FC. It's almost too good to be true,” said the winner with a tear in her eye.

From there it was on to the moment everyone had been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010. The lights dimmed once more as the audience was treated to a video featuring just some of the magic moments that candidates Andres Iniesta (ESP), Lionel Messi (ARG) and Xavi Hernandez (ESP) served up last year. As the tension rose in the auditorium, Moriniere and Blatter joined forces to read out the winner’s name, presenting the coveted prize to a suitably grateful Lionel Messi. "Thanks so much for this applause. To be honest, I didn't expect to win today, but it was already great to be here next to my two mates," Messi said. "To win it makes it even more special. I want to share with all of my mates, my family, all the Barcelonistas and the Argentinians."

The seal was set on a truly glittering gala when he was joined on stage by all the evening’s winners, who received a thoroughly merited ovation from everyone present.