As is now the norm in January, Zurich was transformed into the football capital of the world on Monday night, as the men and women whose stars shone most brightly in 2011 were recognised at the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala.
The beautiful game showed its glamorous side at a memorable, star-studded event during which Lionel Messi was again crowned the indisputable king of the sport. This year he will share his throne with a new queen, Homare Sawa receiving the honours pertaining to the women’s game.
Following a lively opening which saw Swiss music act Tinkabelle perform their single “The man I need”, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and France Football Managing Director Francois Moriniere, in their roles of event hosts, welcomed guests to the Gala.
Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit and reporter Kay Murray then took up the reins of the ceremony, introducing a video montage looking back at the best moments from one of the biggest events of the past year, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.
Canada forward Christine Sinclair and Germany midfielder Kim Kulig took to the stage to share their experiences of the tournament and promote the ‘Live your Goals’ campaign, an initiative which encourages young girls to take up the sport.
The best of the best
Prior to the much-awaited distribution of prizes, a review of the highlights of the year took place, and the nominees for the two main footballing awards of the evening were presented to the audience. In addition, former French international Christian Karembeu welcomed to the stage the scorers of the three strikes vying for the title of best goal of the year, inviting each of them to make a case for their outstanding efforts, just as voting was drawing to a close.
Next to take centre stage was a veritable wealth of footballing talent, as the eleven players selected for the 2011 ‘dream team’ - Iker Casillas; Daniel Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic; Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi; Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney - received a standing ovation from the gallery. Every single one of them appeared immensely proud to be included in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI and to be handed their award by Pele. The photo for which they subsequently posed together is sure to have elicited a wishful sigh from every coach in attendance.
An elite member of that group, Sir Alex Ferguson, seemed visibly touched as the Zurich Kongresshaus rose as one to applaud him, as he was presented with the FIFA Presidential Award for his 25 years of service on the Manchester United bench. “I have been a very, very lucky manager to have had such great players from the start all the way up until the present. You don’t always win in football, but we at Manchester United always try to win,” said the veteran Scottish coach.
"Elite football is about results and winning," said Blatter of Ferguson. "There is no one better at it than him."
On a night in which coaching excellence was consistently recognised, Lothar Matthaus was given the task of presenting the 2011 FIFA Women’s Football Coach of the Year trophy to Japan coach Norio Sasaki, who guided the Japan women's national team to their first FIFA Women's World Cup.
The former Germany captain also had the honour of announcing the name of the FIFA Men’s Football Coach of the Year award, which went to Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola. “I would like to share this award with Mr. Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson. I would also like to thank all the people who, through the years, have helped build the magnificent, unbelievable club that is Barcelona,” he said.
The time then came for voting for the FIFA Puskas Award – recognising the best goal scored during 2011 – to end, and while the final numbers were being calculated, the FIFA Fair Play Award was handed out.
President Junji Ogura and women's national team captain Homare Sawa accepted the award on behalf of the Japanese Football Association, which received the accolade for the impressive courage and spirit shown by Japan as they recovered from the terrible earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastated large parts of the nation on 11 March 2011. “Its a great honour for JFA to receive such a prestigious award from FIFA. We will do our best to continue to prepare in our activities. We are very proud in this award," said a moved Ogura.
Despite this, the Japanese still proved capable of organising an excellent FIFA World Club Cup tournament in December, and of lifting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, a competition during which the players publicly thanked the football community for their support after every match.
An exciting conclusion
Fittingly, a goalscorer of the highest order was called upon to present the FIFA Puskas Award. Ex-Mexico marksman Hugo Sanchez revealed the verdict of the online community, with more than 1,300,000 votes having been registered over the past few months to eventually designate young Brazil phenom Neymar’s strike as the best goal of 2011. “I am so happy to be part of this party and to be competing with these two great players. I’m very grateful to God and to all you. Enjoy this party,” said the delighted forward, upon learning the result.
As the climax of the evening approached, everyone present took a moment to calm their nerves as James Blunt performed his hit single ‘Stay the Night’. The three nominees for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year 2011 then arrived on stage, exhibiting wide smiles for the cameras while Colombian superstar Shakira and the FIFA President proceeded to open the all-important envelope. The winner, Homare Sawa of Japan, could not hide her excitement when she addressed the audience.
At around 8 pm local time, the moment had come to crown the king of Planet Football. Brazil legend Ronaldo, the top goalscorer in the history of the FIFA World Cup™ and a three-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year, took the applause of the public before calling on Lionel Messi to accept the FIFA Ballon d’Or Award for 2011. “It’s a huge pleasure to win the third time, a big honour. I want to thank the teammates, players and coaches that voted for me. I want to thank my Barcelona and Argentina teammates, without them this would have been impossible. But most of all, I want to share the award with Xavi: you deserve this as much as I do,” said the happy recipient of the golden ball-shaped trophy.
The ovation for the chosen pair was extended to pay tribute to all of the evening’s winners, who gathered on stage together to bring the curtain down on another hugely entertaining and exciting FIFA Gala.