After Brazilian forward Kaka won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2007, the honor of being named for Ballon d’Or or the Golden Ball has either gone to Argentina’s Lionel Messi or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. They are inarguably the best footballers for the past some years and there was no surprise, when Messi was awarded with the 2015 Ballon d’Or at a glittering ceremony in Zurich on January 11, 2016. In the last 8 years, it was the fifth time that Messi has won the prestigious award while Ronaldo had been the recipient in 2008, 2013 and 2014. Interestingly, two women footballers also share the similar honor as Messi and Ronaldo. For eight years, Brazil’s Marta and Germany’s Birgit Prinz didn’t allow anyone else to take the award. Marta won the best women footballer award for 5 consecutive years from 2006-2010 while Birgit Prinz won it in 2003, 2004 & 2005. For 2015, however, Carli Lloyd of USA was named as the best woman footballer.
There is an intriguing little history about the Best Footballer award. It began in 1956, when a French soccer magazine France Football mooted the idea of honoring Europe’s best footballer, based on the result of a poll by European journalists. This went on until 1994 but remained restricted to players of European nationality. As a result, legends like Pele and Maradona became ineligible. In 1991, FIFA also instituted the Player-of-the-year award while the European award continued. In 1995, France Football changed the rules and opened the award for all players of European Clubs regardless of their nationality. That same year, Liberia’s AC Milan player George Weah became the first non-European to win the Ballon d’Or award. In 2007, France Football made further changes in their eligibility criteria to open the award to players from the rest of the world. Since FIFA Award was similar, Kaka, Ronaldo and Messi got two awards during 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2010, FIFA and France Football agreed that the two awards should be merged into one. Therefore, since 2010, the Best Football Player Award has been known as FIFA Ballon d’Or.
The polling for FIFA Ballon d’Or award is conducted by coaches/captains of national teams and football journalists. The votes are added against the top three players. There are also other award categories like; best women’s player, most beautiful goal of the year, best coaches in men and women’s football, selection of the world-team etc. The first second and third choices by voters have weightages of 5, 3 and 1 point respectively and winner is someone with most points. This year, Messi garnered 41.33% votes to Ronaldo’s 27.76% and Neymar’s 7.86% and emerged as the best male footballer of the year. It was the fifth time that the 28-year old Argentinian has won the Ballon d’Or award, something no one had done so far. Messi was way ahead of Ronaldo on points last year with 52 goals and 26 assists in 61 games. He scored 34 goals and provided 15 assists and equaled Ronaldo’s tally. The two football superstars towered above other players across 5 Top European leagues taken together. Messi scored in all six club tournaments of which FC Barcelona won five. He also helped Barca win the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2014-15. Ronaldo scored 57 goals in 57 games including 16 in Champions League but that was not enough for him to surpass Messi.
In other announcement in FIFA’s Zurich ceremony, USA’s World Cup-winning midfielder 33-year old Carli Lloyd won the women’s player-of-the-year award. Lloyd scored a hat-trick in World Cup final against Japan and one of her strikes from mid-field was sensational. Germany’s Celia Sasic finished second though she has now retired from the game. Sasic was World Cup’s top scorer with six goals. Japan’s World Cup captain Aya Miyama was third.
FC Barcelona’s Luis Enrique won the world coach-of-the-year award for leading his team in winning five of the six trophies on offer in 2015. On second place was Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola while Chile’s Sampaoli Jorge was third for winning Copa America for his team. USA’s woman coach Jill Ellis received the coach-of-the-year award for women’s football ahead of Japanese coach Norio Sasaki, whose side beat England in World Cup semi-finals, but lost to USA in the final. England’s Mark Sampson finished third.
The goal-of-the-year Puskas award was taken by Wendell Lira of Atletico Goianiense, a Club in the Brazilian Goiano State League. Lira was chosen for his overhead kick in the match against Goianesia. Lionel Messi was second for his run from halfway and clean finish against Athletic Bilbao while AS Roma full-back Alessandro Florenzi was third for scoring a 55-yard goal against Barca.
The World Team announced this year has 4 players from FC Barcelona and 4 from Real Madrid. At other three spots are; Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba and Paris St-Germain’s Thiago Silva. Of the top five leagues in Europe, the English Premier League didn’t have a single player in the World Team.