In January 2012, the football world held its prestigious annual awards ceremony at the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011 Gala in Zurich. Lionel Messi, for whom Switzerland is fast becoming a second home, went away with the top prize once again. Japan’s Homare Sawa, meanwhile, took the women’s accolade for the first time, and in doing so ended the rule of Brazilian star Marta, who had held the trophy since 2006.
At the end of a ceremony in which Pele, Ronaldo, Ruud Gullit, Lothar Matthaus, Christian Karembeu and Hugo Sanchez all handed out prizes, it was Messi who stepped up to take his third FIFA Ballon d’Or in as many years. The Argentina and Barcelona star claimed the award ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain’s Xavi, who had to settle for third spot for the third time. “I want to share this Ballon d’Or with Xavi: you deserve it as much as I do,” Messi said in tribute to his Barça team-mate.
Sawa, for her part, scooped the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year 2011 award to cap an extraordinary year, during which she had also led the Nadeshiko to glory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™. By taking the prize, Sawa ended the five-year reign of Brazil’s Marta, who finished second ahead of USA’s Abby Wambach.
The game’s top managerial talents were also honoured, with Pep Guardiola and Norio Sasaki picking up the FIFA Coach of the Year prizes for men’s and women’s football respectively. Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, received the FIFA Presidential Award in recognition for his 25 years in charge of Manchester United.
Japanese courage rewarded
The Scot has taken a quarter of a century to build one of the strongest clubs on the planet, but it took just one day, an earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011 to destroy a large part of Japan.
The country managed, nonetheless, to host an impeccable FIFA Club World Cup in December, while the women’s national side also lifted the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. The FIFA Fair Play Award was duly given to the Japanese Football Association in recognition for the country's strength and courage.
The evening’s other winners were Iker Casillas, Daniel Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic, Andres Iniesta, Wayne Rooney and Xabi Alonso, who were included in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI alongside Xavi, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Neymar was not chosen as part of the XI, but he did receive the FIFA Puskas Award for a stunning goal he scored in 2011.
Want to relive this memorable event? You can watch it again and enjoy all our interviews, photos and videos from the evening by following the links in the right-hand column.