When your phone beeps, it’s usually just one of a huge number of notifications you receive on a daily basis, telling you that somebody has interacted with you on social media, has sent you a message to let you know about their day, or a media organisation updating you on the latest breaking news.
For a lucky few, their phone beeping meant a life-changing experience was about to happen. Ten fans from around the world were competition winners on social media and The Club on FIFA.com, which earned them a trip to Zurich for The Best FIFA Football Awards™.
“I was doing my university exams,” explained Akshat Arvind, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student from New Delhi, India, who correctly answered a question on the FIFA Football Awards Facebook page. “When I came out of the examination room I turned on my mobile phone and got a message from the FIFA Football Awards on Facebook. For the first ten to 15 seconds I couldn’t understand what was going on. I was so struck at that moment to read that I was invited to Zurich. I was shaking for another half an hour.”
Arvind is leaving his native India for the first time to head to Zurich, and be a part of the glitz and glamour on the Green Carpet, sitting down at the TPC Studios to see who will be crowned The Best. He will be sat alongside Monica Morales, a college student at University of California, Berkeley in the USA.
“Because of the time difference from Zurich, I got the message through at about four in the morning, and at first I didn’t pay attention to it because it was so early,” Morales, who also answered a question correctly on Facebook, told FIFA.com. “When I woke up properly I read it, and I couldn’t believe it. I had to look into it again and I told my mom. She said, 'Is that real?’”
It certainly was, and it has meant an incredible trip to Zurich from San Francisco for the 22-year-old. She will be joined at the awards ceremony by Dr Gordon Akudibillah, a Ghanaian-born US citizen, flying out from Atlanta in the USA to Zurich. Akudibillah’s route was a slightly different one, as the top predictor for 2016 on The Club on FIFA.com. Akudibillah’s remarkable streak came in February 2016, meaning he had an agonising nine months to wait to see if he would be bettered and miss out on the dream ticket to the awards. The research scientist, who works at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention using mathematics to model infectious diseases, reckons his history with numbers played a role in him winning the contest.
“This competition is incredible,” Akudibillah told FIFA.com. “It brings a lot into play. I have this mathematics background which helps, but you also need to know the teams and the players who are going to play. Every month, I kept predicting, because if there was a tie, they’d go by who made more predictions. November was very nerve-wracking. That month, with five days to go, somebody was three correct predictions away from beating me. I was paying attention to the results, and his predictions, and when he couldn’t reach me I got so excited.”
The constant predictions meant that Akudibillah watched games from Chile to Peru, from China PR to Singapore, raising his interest in world football beyond his regular watching habits of the Premier League and La Liga.
Dreams realised as fans recognised
Unsurprisingly, a common theme for the three winners is their interest in the major European leagues: Akudibillah is a huge Arsenal fan, while Arvind follows Barcelona. Morales follows Real Madrid, but did not see their biggest star when the Spanish champions came to the USA in 2014.
“When Real Madrid came, it was just after the World Cup, and Cristiano Ronaldo was on vacation, so it was kind of a bummer. I really wanted to see him,” Morales said. She will get the chance to see him in the flesh for the first time in Zurich, with The Best FIFA Men’s Player nominee taking his seat at the TPC Studios among a galaxy of stars.
“The footballers that I watch on TV, never in my life did I think I’d be able to see them in reality,” Arvind said. “This is something that I could never have imagined in my dreams. It’s an opportunity which is out of this world.”
Bringing the competition winners to Zurich is part of an effort by FIFA to bring the awards closer to the billions of football fans around the world, which also saw – for the first time – fans’ votes count towards deciding four of football’s top awards: The Best FIFA Men’s and Women’s Player and The Best Men’s and Women’s Coach. Also, the winner of the FIFA Puskás Award remains exclusively decided by fans, as does the new FIFA Fan Award.
“In Ghana, they say we have 12 million coaches, everyone is a football coach in our country!” Akudibillah laughed. “It’s nice to see exactly what the fans think about the players. It gives us an opportunity to feel involved in the game. It’s an excellent idea.”
The final word should probably be left to the world’s eminent predictor. So, who will be The Best?
“I think The Best Men’s Player will be Cristiano Ronaldo," said Akudibillah. "He did very well, winning the Champions League and the European Championship. As for The Best Men’s Coach Award, I’ll go with Claudio Ranieri, because the odds of him winning the league were 5,000-1, which was incredible. I couldn’t have predicted Leicester’s title win!”