World football's ultimate award ceremony is almost upon us again. The 12th FIFA Player of the Year Gala will this year be held in Madrid on December 17, where an unprecedented number of prizes will be dished out. All in all, 20 awards will be presented including the best teams, Fair Play distinctions and those won at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. However, most eyes will be focused on the Blue Ribband awards - the FIFA Player of the Year for men and women - and who will step into the boots of Luis Figo and Mia Hamm.

National team coaches have been casting their minds backs through 2002, a year given added spice for men?s football thanks to performances at the first Asian finals. Very soon will reveal, in alphabetical order, the names of the three men and three women who have gained the most votes and from whom one will be presented with the prestigious award in Madrid. And the link between the Spanish capital and the Gala does not end with its choice as this year?s venue as the winners of five of the previous six editions currently play for Real Madrid.

The list reads like a roll call of football's finest - Portugal's Luis Figo (2001), France's Zinedine Zidane (2000, 1998), Brazil's Rivaldo (1999), and his countryman Ronaldo (1996, 1997), Liberia's George Weah (1995), Brazil's Romario (1994), Italy's Roberto Baggio (1993), Holland's Marco van Basten (1992) and the first winner in 1991 Germany's Lothar Matthaeus.

It will be the second year the Women's Player of the Year prize will be awarded. Although, next year, 2003, will be FIFA World Cup year in China, qualification is hot underway while this year also witnessed the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada.