A brief history of The Best

  • The Best FIFA Football Awards 2021 will take place on 17 January 2022

  • The FIFA awards' ceremony was first held in 1991

  • We look back at the highlights from the past 28 years

Preparations are well underway for The Best FIFA Football Awards 2021™ on 17 January 2022 in Zurich, even though the event will be a purely virtual one due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To whet your appetite, FIFA.com has decided to indulge in a little nostalgia by picking out some of the highlights of past editions.

The FIFA World Player of the Year award was first given out in 1991 to Germany’s Lothar Matthaus, captain of the team that won the FIFA World Cup™ at Italy 1990. Since then, there have been another 29 awards galas, with the number of prizes increasingly significantly. In 2001 came the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Player award, which went to USA’s Mia Hamm. That year also saw the first ever Presidential Award, designed to honour particular service to the game from personalities and institutions that often get overlooked by the media. The first recipient of this accolade was Marvin Lee from Trinidad, with Hiroshi Kagawa the most recent person to be honoured, in 2014.

August 1993 saw the creation of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – a crucial point of reference for the progress of national teams. This also brought about two new awards that also feature at the Gala – namely for the Best Team and the Best Newcomers of the year. This later became the FIFA/FIFPro Men’s and Women’s World11s – a dream team that to date has been selected by thousands of professional footballers from all around the world, who vote for the most outstanding player in each position. From 2005 to 2008, FIFPro picked a men’s world XI using the same voting system. 2019 saw the first-ever FIFA/FIFPro Women's World11.

Fair play, fans and goalkeepers

The oldest accolade is the FIFA Fair Play Award, which already existed before the gala was ever held – a fact which once again underlines the importance that world football’s governing body gives to the sporting aspect of the game. Back in 1987, Scottish club Dundee United’s fans were the first-ever winners, and since then FIFA has gone on to recognise fans, national teams, clubs, players and associations whose adherence to the ideals of fair play have set an example.

In 2009, the FIFA Puskás Award was created in honour of Ferenc Puskás, who was the captain and star of the Hungarian national team in the 1950s. This award is given to the men’s or women’s player who has scored the best goal of the year.

The first winners of the FIFA Fan Award were the supporters of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund in 2016. The following year, it went to those from Celtic, followed by Peru’s fans in 2018, Palmeiras supporter Silvia Grecco and, most recently, the ultra-dedicated Marivaldo Francisco da Silva, fan of Sport Recife. The FIFA Fan Award will be handed out again this year and will honour an outstanding moment or a particularly significant gesture.

An award for that special breed of player who wears gloves and prowls between the sticks was long overdue, and in 2017 Gianluigi Buffon became the first winner of The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper Award in 2017. He was followed by Thibaut Courtois in 2018, Alisson in 2019 and, most recently, Manuel Neuer in 2020. The success of this particular category led to the creation of The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper Award in 2019. The inaugural recipient was Sari van Veenendaal, thanks in no small part to her stand-out performances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, which helped the Netherlands make it to the final. The most recent winner was France and Lyon keeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

Names and dates which have made history

Although the gala has been held 29 times now, there are only 16 names on the FIFA World Player of the Year list due to repeat winners. The most prolific have been Argentina’s Lionel Messi (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019) and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017).

Brazil, however, is the country with the most awards with eight, courtesy of Ronaldo (1996, 1997 and 2002), Ronaldinho (2004 and 2005), Romario (1994), Rivaldo (1999) and Kaka (2007).

They also have six women’s awards to their name in the short history of the category – all thanks to Marta (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2018). Prior to her, another player took home the award three years in a row, namely Germany great Birgit Prinz. USA’s Mia Hamm won the first two awards in this category, with fellow American Carli Lloyd following in her footsteps in 2015 and 2016. Luzy Bronze took home the trophy last year and is in the running to make it two-in-a-row for 2021.

In addition to Ronaldo's five awards, Portugal also celebrated Luis Figo’s win in 2001, while Italy have had two winners – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and Roberto Baggio back in 1993. The other names on the honours' board are the aforementioned Matthaus (Germany), Marco van Basten (Netherlands, 1992) George Weah (Liberia, 1995) and Luka Modric (Croatia, 2018) and, of course, Robert Lewandowski (Poland, 2020). Weah is the only player to date to break the duopoly of traditional powerhouses South America and Europe (15 for Europe and 14 for South America) and take the prize back to Africa. The Liberian also won the FIFA Fair Play Award the following year.

In 2010, FIFA decided to go down a new path as far as its awards were concerned by merging the FIFA World Footballer of the Year with the Ballon d'Or from France Football into a combined award and ceremony, namely the FIFA Ballon d'Or. The joint Gala was held every year up until 2015 and saw awards for the best men’s and women’s players and coaches.

The Best

The Best FIFA Football Awards™, which began in 2016, marked a new era in crowning the outstanding figures in world football. The first ceremony was held in the TPC-Studios in Zurich and got fans involved more than ever before with their votes from 2016 helping to crown the best players and coaches in men’s and women’s football. The FIFA Fan Award was also given out for the first time to honour outstanding gestures from supporters.