A glittering array of star names was on show in Berne on Tuesday, parading their skills for a special cause at the city's Stade de Suisse. The occasion? Not a FIFA World Cup™ match or even a UEFA Champions League encounter but the 11th edition of the Annual Match against Poverty, organised by Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo in association with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
This year, the friends of Ronaldo and Zidane took on the friends of local outfit Young Boys, with the former enjoying an 8-6 victory. In total, close to 30 world-class talents took part in the event to help raise money for the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan claimed more than 6,000 lives last November.
FIFA.com met up with a number of the illustrious players to speak about their involvement. And while each participant had his or her own reasons, all of them travelled with the firm intention of providing assistance.
"When Ronaldo got everything started 11 years ago, we were in Switzerland as well – in Basel," explained Zidane. "It's nice to come back a decade on and I think it's important to show solidarity at a time when we often think only of ourselves. We mustn't forget to think of others too."
"We all know what football can achieve and that's why we've organised this match," added Ronaldo. "We believe we can help keep a check on global poverty and maybe one day even eradicate it. I sincerely hope we'll manage to send positive energy to the Philippines."
Typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation in the South-east Asian island nation. Around 14 million people were affected in total, while six million workers lost their jobs and 30,000 buildings were destroyed. Among those moved by the disaster was Portugal legend Luis Figo, who did not hesitate to join Ronaldo and Zidane.
"Everyone saw the images on television," he said. "It was terrible. I can only imagine what those people went through and I feel proud to be here to help reduce their pain."
What Zizou and Ronaldo have done is excellent: they're thinking of other people, those less fortunate than themselves. That's our role, and it's vital that everyone does their bit.
All the players present were quick to praise the two global icons behind the initiative. "What Zizou and Ronaldo have done is excellent: they're thinking of other people, those less fortunate than themselves," said Robert Pires. "That's our role, and it's vital that everyone does their bit and takes action for the Philippines, which was hit with full force. This is the 11th edition and I wish I had taken part in the other ten."
"I'm very happy to be here this year, especially as I missed the tenth edition last year," added Steve McManaman. "It's an incredible feeling to be able to do a little something for people in need. You can't just come to a match like this, play and then leave. It's important to be involved."
FIFA promised to assist the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon and, on 4 December last year, the FIFA Finance Committee confirmed a special grant of $1 million USD towards the rebuilding of the country's damaged football infrastructure.
"When someone needs to lend a hand, we are there," noted Gennaro Gattuso, proud of the solidarity shown by his fellow footballers. "We've had so much good fortune in our lives, and now it's our turn to help those who need it. Football isn't all about money and competitions – it's also about helping and giving hope."
Our main goal is to help the people of the Philippines get back on their feet, rebuild their lives and recover what they've lost.
That sentiment was echoed by Jamie Carragher, who stressed that, "it's only normal for footballers to give a little back after having benefited so much from their sport. I know the money raised will be put to good use and that the Philippines will really benefit from it."
Christian Vieri, meanwhile, explained his reasons for taking part with obvious passion. "It's fundamental to have initiatives like this," he said. "I felt a deep need inside myself to play this match and help others through football. There are lots of people suffering in the world; we give them a little hope through our sport."*
*20 clinics this year
In February, a FIFA delegation visited the scene of the disaster to assess damage and set objectives. Meanwhile, the UNDP – backed by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and the local association in Leyte – plans to open at least 20 clinics before the end of the year for children from the region traumatised by the catastrophe. Additional projects to aid around 10,000 children are also being developed.
For ex-Spain midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, it is important for players to engage with issues outside the bubble of professional football. "When you play, sometimes you have a tendency to concentrate on your career and your club, and you forget a little what's happening in the world. Now we're more aware and that's why we're always available for events like this."
"We've had everything in our lives," said Fabio Cannavaro. "It's a must for us to help these people who have lost everything. That's our contribution. I'm honoured to be here and I hope we'll raise a lot of money and give these people who have nothing left a little reason to smile again."
As a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, Brazilian star Marta was particularly involved in this year's Match against Poverty. She too feels an obligation to help the world's least fortunate, especially since so many of her compatriots also struggle with poverty.
"To be able to help is priceless," she said. "Our main goal is to help the people of the Philippines get back on their feet, rebuild their lives and recover what they've lost. I come from a country where lots of people live in difficulty and I know what the Filipinos are going through. That's why I try to imagine myself in their situation and do everything I can to help them."