The FIFA Ballon d’Or is the highest accolade any footballer can hope to receive. The famous golden statuette is a prize to which all players aspire, as it signifies that they have been recognised by their peers as the best in their profession.
But it also generates lively debate and discussion all over the globe, among players, coaches and fans. Indeed practically anyone with an interest in the beautiful game has an opinion on the top male and female players of the year, or on the best coaches of the year in men’s and women’s football.
With this year's FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala award winners set to be revealed on 9 January 2012 in Zurich, FIFA.com compiled a selection of some of the best awards-related predictions, comments and observations currently doing the rounds on planet football.
Cristiano Ronaldo via Twitter: “It’s great to be among the final three contenders nominated for the FIFA Ballon d'Or award again."
Lionel Messi: “I’m very much aware of the prestige associated with this award. Winning would give me the greatest pleasure. It gives me immense pride to think that, one day, perhaps, my name could be mentioned in the same breath as illustrious figures like Michel Platini, and that, given the number of years I still have in front of me, I might even surpass his total of three consecutive awards eventually.”
Xavi: “I’m extremely proud to have been nominated for the third successive year. It’s a great honour, and it’s not something I’ll ever forget. This wasn’t actually one of my goals when I was young. I simply wanted to become a professional footballer; winning the Ballon d'Or wasn’t really in my plans. For me, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world. He always makes a real difference in our matches.”
Marta: “Homare Sawa and Abby Wambach had a great World Cup, so my sixth win in a row is certainly not a foregone conclusion. But I’m happy to have been nominated, and am looking forward to attending the ceremony, which is always a wonderful occasion, and to meeting other sporting figures. It’s the eighth time that I’ve been nominated, which I’m delighted about.”
The former winners
Marco van Basten (1988, 1989 and 1992): “There’s no doubt for me, Messi is clearly the best player in the world. He’s a veritable phenomenon who’s won everything but still wants more. His humility only makes him better in my eyes. I think he can become even more influential – he’s a born leader and should make his mark just like Diego Maradona did. I don’t mean just with Barcelona, but with Argentina too. He should win the Ballon d'Or award again. Not just for his skills, but for the Liga, Champions League and Spanish Super Cup medals he earned this year. He’s been a key figure for his team all season.”
Michel Platini (1983, 1984 and 1985): "Records are there to be broken, and my record of three successive Ballon d’Or awards will be broken one day. I arrived at Juventus at the age of 27, but if I’d started out there at 13 like Messi at Barcelona, who knows, maybe I would have won more of them.”
Johan Cruyff (1971, 1973 and 1974): “Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are truly exceptional players. But it all depends on how you view the game. The way I look at it, Xavi deserves it not because he’s the best, but because he’s the type of player whose hard work allows others to come to the fore.”
Eusebio (1965): “At this moment in time, the name of the top player in the world is Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo has also won the award before, but right now Messi is the best and deserves to win it. Even Ronaldo has recognised that Messi has been better than him this year.”
Kaka (2007): “In the modern game, Cristiano is the world’s most complete player. He’s capable of scoring goals with his left foot, his right, his head and from free-kicks. Messi is excellent and has numerous qualities, but overall Cristiano has more to offer."
Muricy Ramalho: “Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are the world’s top coaches. But I would suggest that, to truly be considered as the best in the game, you need to work in Brazil and win a championship. In Brazil, you can lead a team to the title, but if you don’t win your next match, you might still lose your job.”
Arsene Wenger: “I think Messi is the favourite, because he won both La Liga and the Champions League. In important matches, he’s been his side’s most decisive player.”
Vicente del Bosque: "Pep Guardiola has won the Spanish League and the UEFA Champions League. On top of that, he conducts himself in an exemplary fashion."
Pep Guardiola: “This is a very significant award. It’s an honour to have had three players nominated for it last year, and now two again this year. Barça players gaining this type of recognition comes down to the simple fact that we won a lot of trophies. If we hadn’t won anything, it wouldn’t make any sense. I’d like to congratulate my players, and may the best man win.”
Theo Bucker: "The first thing that I have to say is that they’re all outstanding players. In my opinion, Ronaldo is a tremendous performer, but personally speaking, he’s not a traditional team player. And although Xavi probably doesn’t have the same amount of raw skill, he’s a real workhorse who does a lot for the team. Messi is better than them both, because he’s just an incredible talent who scores and puts in a lot of effort, as well as being a great team player. For me, he deserves to win the FIFA Ballon d'Or."
The FIFA World Cup™ winners
Diego Maradona: “The day that Messi finished second behind Ronaldo, I called him and said: ‘Listen to me, I’m going to tell you something, Lio, that’s the last time I’m going to let you come second to anyone. Is that clear?’ Since that day, he’s won everything!”
Emmanuel Petit: "I’m leaning towards Cristiano Ronaldo. A bit like Jose Mourinho, he’s performed very well wherever he’s been. Even when his team were struggling, he always stood up to be counted – you just have to look at his exceptional statistics to see that. Ronaldo’s consistency is just really impressive."
The team-mates and opponents
Gaetane Thiney: “I can see Japan’s Norio Sasaki winning the World Coach of the Year award for women’s football. As for Pia Sundhage, her methods are very close to those employed by Bruno Bini. Like him, she uses emotive words to motivate her players. Beyond that, I hope for Bruno’s sake, and for the sake of the French women’s team, that he wins.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: “I’m going to vote for Messi, he’s the best of the three. He’s demonstrated that, and I hope he’ll continue to do so. He’s won almost everything yet he’s still very young. But in my mind, I’m the world’s best. I don’t need a Ballon d'Or award to be number one.”
Guti: “Messi or Cristiano? Messi, without a doubt. He’s more decisive in key matches. It’s not that one’s better than the other, but Cristiano needs to start exerting more of an influence for Real in crunch games. Mourinho is a great coach who has really got things going at Real. He’s improved their play and created a calmer, more peaceful atmosphere within the club. Even if Real didn’t win anything, I suspect that they’d still hang on to Mourinho."
Neymar: “Up to now, it’s been a fantastic year. I’m already extremely happy to have been selected for the 23-man shortlist. For me, it was just like winning a trophy! Messi is the best, with Cristiano right behind him.”
Alou Diarra: “The Ballon d'Or is between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The level they’re both playing at in the Liga and in the Champions League puts them well ahead of the rest. They’re scoring goals, putting on spectacular displays and, most importantly, fulfilling essential roles at two very high-profile sides. But as far as I’m concerned, Messi is just one step ahead. The medals he won during 2011, including the Champions League and Spanish League, should ensure he gets the nod. What differentiates him from Ronaldo is his ability to drive his team to victory.”
The tennis star
Rafael Nadal: “I hope Xavi wins the Ballon d’Or. As a Spaniard, I have to support Xavi! He’s had an incredible career and completely deserves it, even if the other two are also extraordinary players.”
The FIFA.com users
Jorge7 of Mexico: “Xavi is the architect in the middle of the park. For me, he’s the very best. Without him, Messi wouldn’t be the same player, and you can see that when he plays for his country. When he’s on international duty with Spain, Xavi brings out the best in his team-mates. In my opinion, it’s got to be Xavi (without taking anything away from Messi, who is an exceptional player, or Ronaldo, who keeps scoring goals and performing brilliantly for Madrid).”
flavio196666 of France: “The Ballon d’Or should recognise a player, not a club. It has to be Ronaldo. He’s proved his worth at all of the clubs that he’s played with. Messi said himself that he’ll never leave Barcelona. Lots of people would love to know how he would get on at a different club."
Zoping of Haiti: “First, Lionel Andres Messi, second, Cristiano Ronaldo and third, Xavi Hernandez. Lionel Messi because he won everything on the table except for the Spanish Cup. Ronaldo because he won the Spanish Cup and was top scorer in the league. And then there’s Xavi, who continually amazes us with his quality and his countless defence-splitting passes. These three players have managed to continue performing at the highest level all year long, despite injuries, fatigue and jet lag incurred by travelling to and from international fixtures."