It was not just the candidates in the running for the FIFA Ballon d’Or or FIFA World Coach of the Year that had the chance to shine on Monday 10 January in Zurich. For the second year in succession, 11 of the world’s finest footballers were also on hand after being chosen as part of the FIFA/FIFPro World XI – the coveted award voted for by around 20,000 of their fellow professionals from every corner of the globe.
As you would expect after La Roja’s victory at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the list was dominated by Spanish internationals. First of no fewer than six Spaniards was goalkeeper Iker Casillas, voted the best in his position on Planet Football for the second year running. “This is the third year in a row that I’ve been here, and the second time as part of the FIFA/FIFPro XI,” said the Real Madrid custodian in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
“It’s very satisfying, because it represents the recognition received from your fellow professionals after an entire year of trying to do your best out on the pitch. We’re also happy to see so many Spaniards. The Spanish national team has been doing very well for two or three years now and that’s had a big impact on putting us in the limelight at events like these.”
In front of him in defence are two team-mates for club side Inter Milan and Brazil, in the shape of Maicon and Lucio. “It’s a very important moment in my life, but I have to thank my Inter colleagues and also those people who voted for me,” said Maicon, who thus follows in the footsteps of fellow Brazilian full-backs and World XI members Cafu and Daniel Alves. “When Cafu left A Seleção there were concerns about who would fill his right-back spot. But now we’ve got great players vying for the position, so to follow in the footsteps of Cafu and Dani Alves is really special.”
Joining the Inter duo at the back are another pairing who have starred together for club and country: Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. “It’s a real honour, because it’s a prize that’s voted for by players, who are the ones who really know about football,” said Pique, before Barça and Spain colleague Puyol gave his verdict on this year’s selection: “I think that all 11 of the players selected deserve to be here, they’re great players. But if I had to include someone else, I’d choose [Diego] Milito. The problem is that the three attackers on the list are all so good I wouldn’t know who to take out.”
La Selección also boast two representatives in midfield, with Barcelona double act Xavi and Andres Iniesta - who were both also in the running for the FIFA Ballon d’Or - joined by Dutch maestro Wesley Sneijder. As well as playing an influential role in Inter’s five major trophy successes last year, Sneijder was a key figure in the Netherlands’ run to second spot at South Africa 2010.
Finally in attack were Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both part of last year’s XI, and they were teamed up with yet another Barça and Spain star: David Villa. “For me this is an honour. I’m here for the fourth time and it still feels like the first. Our fellow players are the ones who know us best, so it’s a very nice feeling to be chosen,” said Real Madrid forward Ronaldo, the only man among the XI not to have won silverware this year, when speaking to FIFA.com.
“It’s hard to put the feeling into words,” said Villa, Spain’s five-goal top scorer on South African soil. “This award comes as recognition for a very good year for me, for the Spanish national team and for Barcelona.”