A steady stream of football stars past and present made their way along the red carpet outside the Zurich Kongresshaus on Monday evening, their destination the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2010.
Now recognised as one of the most prestigious awards ceremonies on the planet, the event attracts the great and the good of the football world and generates no little glamour.
Sparkling more than most was Lionel Messi, impeccably attired in a velvet tuxedo, while Cristiano Ronaldo was his usual elegant self. Their respective club coaches Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho showed why they have become fashion icons in their own right, with a galaxy of legendary names and other dignitaries from the football family also doing their bit to make this a very special night.
Though every corner of the football world was amply represented, the evening had a distinctively Spanish flavour, with three Barcelona players up for the main award and Guardiola and Spain boss Vicente del Bosque in the running for the men’s coach of the year prize. Little wonder then that Fernando Hierro, the Sporting Director of the Spain Football Association was all smiles as he arrived: “I’m very proud to see so many Spaniards up there with the best. Let’s hope one of them wins.”
The only Spanish player ever to win recognition as the World Player of the Year award was Luis Suarez, although former Roja striker Emilio Butragueno came very close to emulating him on two occasions. El Buitre was crossing his fingers as he made his appearance in Zurich, hoping to celebrate a long-awaited success for Spain.
“I came third twice and I’d have loved to have taken part in a Gala like this,” he said. “I’m very happy for the players who are here today and I really don’t mind who wins. They’ve all done a great job.”
Dutch great Marco van Basten, the winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1988 and 1989, was more forthcoming, however, putting his money on the oldest of the three nominees: “I think it should go to Xavi. All three of them are great players but Xavi gets my vote for the way he controls games and the quality of his passing. What’s more, Messi won it last year and [Andres] Iniesta is still young.”
Offering a different view was Cameroonian hero Roger Milla, himself a great striker during his playing days. “It’s got to be Lionel Messi, no question,” he said in forthright fashion. “The other two are fantastic footballers but they’re playing alongside the Argentinian, who is just amazing.”
Lamenting the absence of the cream of African football, Milla also had this to say: “Samuel Eto’o had a great season and won almost everything. That said, you can’t argue about the three who are there.”
The excitement builds
Opinions were also divided on the favourite for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football. While Hierro naturally plumped for Spain coach Del Bosque, Wesley Sneijder stayed loyal to the man who helped him collect three winners’ medals with Inter Milan last season: “There’s only one thing I’m going to say about Jose Mourinho: he’s got to be the winner today.”
Voicing his thoughts, the Portuguese coach could barely conceal his excitement at it all. “It’s difficult to be at a ceremony without knowing if you’re going to win or lose,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be involved in this, though, and winning and losing is all part of life.”
Avoiding the debate on the coaches’ award, Inter centre-half Lucio spoke of his pride at taking part in the ceremony. “It’s an honour to be representing Brazil and a pleasure to have come this far. I think all three of the candidates for the players’ award have had a great season but if I had to stick my neck out, I’d go for Iniesta.”
That view was shared by Lothar Matthaus, a Ballon d’Or winner in 1990 and the inaugural FIFA World Player in 1991. “I think it will be a Spanish player and I reckon Iniesta has a slight advantage because he scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final.”
By this time, the red carpet had virtually emptied, with the guests taking their seats in eager anticipation of the event they had all been waiting for: the FIFA Ballon D’Or Gala 2010.