Glitz, glamour and the stars of the global game make for compulsive viewing when the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2012 takes place at Congress House Zurich on 7 January 2013.
Even at this early stage, the biggest personalities in the game have kicked off a passionate debate as to who deserves the prestigious honour as best men's and women's player, and best coach in the men's and women's game over the last 12 months.
In the run-up to the event, FIFA.com will be bringing you a regular feature showcasing the best quotes and opinions from current and former stars, top names from other sporting disciplines and other areas of public life. Most of the statements are drawn from our extensive range of exclusive interviews, so enjoy today's first instalment!
Former world-class players exclusively told FIFA.com…
"In the last three years it's been a given that Lionel Messi should win the FIFA Ballon d'Or, and I don't think his time is over. His single minor weakness is that he is not as efficient for Argentina as he is for Barcelona, where the whole team plays just for him. I know that's changed a little recently, but all in all he’s still not playing at the same level for his national team. Even when you boast enormous talent, it's always better to play in a trophy-winning team. Unfortunately, neither Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo play for Spain, who have won everything in recent years."
Just Fontaine (FRA)
"In my opinion there are currently several exceptional footballers who could justifiably win the title. Of course, last year Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo amazed us all with their clubs, setting unbelievable records with the number of goals they scored. However, they couldn’t repeat that kind of form at international level, which is why I think a Spaniard should win the FIFA Ballon d’Or. My favourites are Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. Maybe they don’t stand out as much as Ronaldo and Messi because they don’t score as often, but they’ve won one trophy after another for club and country. They’re the heartbeat in both teams and are always pulling the strings on the pitch, as they impressively demonstrated at EURO 2012."
Lothar Matthaus (GER)
"It’s still a battle between those two – Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – even though [Andres] Iniesta and Xavi will be in there too and are also incredible players. However, because they play in midfield, the public might not feel quite as passionately about them. Messi would get my vote because, in addition to being decisive – scoring loads of goals and winning trophies – he’s able to bring a special and different kind of magic to football. Cristiano Ronaldo is a very technical, very skilful and very pragmatic player, but Messi continues to produce the unexpected on a regular basis."
"Comparing defenders, midfielders and strikers to one another is very tough. We all talk more about strikers simply because they score the goals. Comparing Ronaldo and Messi, I favour the Argentinian. Both are magnificent players, but Messi's style, his behaviour on the pitch and his personality all combine to impress me. However, I will add that without a shadow of a doubt Iniesta and Xavi are the best in the world in their positions."
Alain Geiger (SUI)
"I reckon it'll be between Messi and Ronaldo again, and at the end of the day, Messi will again be the winner. He achieves the unbelievable on the field, and all at the highest pace you can imagine. Football keeps producing icons who shape an era, the likes of Pele and Beckenbauer. In my day it was Maradona, and now it's Messi!"
Toni Schumacher (GER)
"It always comes down to the criteria. If we're talking about pure quality, Lionel Messi is unbeatable in my opinion. But if you take into account results for club and country, the race is more open. However, in terms of talent, no-one comes close to Messi."
Willy Sagnol (FRA)
A basketball superstar and two greats of golf, plus an acting legend and a well-known politician also offer their views...
"That’s a difficult one. Messi’s already won it three times, and I like Cristiano Ronaldo a lot. It seems as if his pride has been hurt recently by not winning the award. I believe it might be time to help him regain his confidence, so I’d give it to Ronaldo, as he’s a bit fragile at the moment, as is often the case with truly great players. In any case, no-one can take Messi’s three awards away from him. He’ll somehow always be carrying the Golden Ball around with him now!"
Gerard Depardieu (actor, FRA) interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com
"I'm in awe of Messi. I don't know whether it's simply his style of play, or whether it’s at least partly because he's from Argentina, but I'm really amazed by him. From my point of view as a layman, I can say I just love watching him. He always plays, he's never injured, and on top of that he’s a really down-to-earth lad. Based on that, I think I'd vote for him."
Luis Scola (NBA star, ARG) interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com
"Iker Casillas undoubtedly deserves the FIFA Ballon d'Or. He should basically have already won it in the last two or three years, when you think back over what he's achieved for Spain and Real Madrid. But it's always hard for a 'keeper to win this award. It normally goes to a striker or playmaker. Otherwise, my candidates are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta."
Sergio Garcia (pro golfer, ESP) talking to EFE
"I reckon Messi just has his nose in front. I know Ronaldo does some unbelievable things, and there are loads more really good players, but it'll be Messi!"
Laura Davies (pro golfer, GBR) interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com
"I'd definitely vote for Iker Casillas, the Spain and Real Madrid captain. Just look at what he's won. His record speaks for itself. He is a world champion and a European champion twice with Spain, a Champions League winner and Spanish champion. The position he plays is extremely challenging, because the primary objective of football is to score goals. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are obviously very good players, as is Sergio Ramos. But if I had a vote, I'd give it to Casillas."
Mariano Rajoy (Prime Minister, ESP) talking to Europa Press
We also spoke to one of the most technically skilled players ever to grace women's football about her favourite for the women's award…
"To be honest I'm thinking of Abby Wambach! She's been there or thereabouts often enough, and a true member of the elite for years. Abby is one of those players you think has disappeared for 85 minutes, but suddenly pops up and scores. And her goals are usually crucial, especially in big matches, in finals."
Renate Lingor (GER) interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com
We'll soon be bringing you the second instalment in our collection of views and opinions about the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2012, including quotes from the likes of David Trezeguet, Radamel Falcao and many more!