Recent activities involving FIFA, the football world’s governing body, haven’t always been favourable for the organisation. However, they still produce one of the most lavish ceremonies in the world every January, as the sport recognises the incredible achievements of its finest athletes.
As everyone looked back on the football year of 2015, social media was buzzing with reaction - not all of it favourable. A hot topic of conversation was regarding the FIFPro Team of the Year. Unsurprisingly, the top three candidates to win the men’s award - Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar - were chosen as the front three. Last year’s third place award went to Manuel Neuer and he again featured between the sticks in the World XI.
Defence and midfield were the two areas that provoked much debate. Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Paul Pogba and Andres Iniesta completed the line-up. There’s no doubting the quality of the team, but several bemoaned the exclusion of a few well known players.
The general consensus was that Jerome Boateng and David Alaba - both of Bayern Munich - should’ve been chosen in defence, with Barcelona’s midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets also missing. There was also no Robert Lewandowski or Thomas Muller, whilst Juventus’ solid central defender Georgio Chiellini also missed out. Luis Suarez, as controversial as his actions on the field may be, is another player that arguably could have been considered for the side, if not the award.
Yet the reaction to the Team of the Year soon died down as the winners of the individual awards were announced. It was hardly a shock to see Luis Enrique named men’s football coach of the year, after his exploits as Barcelona manager saw the side lift five trophies in the calendar year. He saw off competition from Bayern boss Pep Guardiola and Chile chief Jorge Sampaoli.
And having led the USA women’s team to World Cup glory, Jill Ellis received the corresponding award for the women’s game. She saw off competition from Japan manager Norio Sasaki and England coach Mark Sampson, who finished second and third respectively having led their sides to identical finishes in the women’s World Cup.
The annual Puskas award for the best goal of the year was somewhat of a shock, with Lionel Messi’s stunning solo goal in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao being pipped by Wendell Lira’s spectacular acrobatic effort for Atletico Goianiense against rivals Goianesia in the Brazilian league.
The award for the best player in women’s football was given to 33-year-old Carli Lloyd. Lloyd was awarded the Golden Ball for her performances in the World Cup and scored a stunning hat trick which included a goal from the halfway line as USA beat Japan in the final. Having won the Champions League with Frankfurt and scored six goals at the World Cup, German Celia Sasic came second despite her retirement halfway through the year, aged 27. Japanese captain Aya Miyama came in third having led her side to the World Cup final. Intriguingly, not one of the trio had won the award previously.
Yet again, though, the men’s game stole the show. There was a new nominee in the shortlist with Neymar - the first Brazilian to finish in the top three since Kaka’s win in 2007 - hoping to pip Ronaldo and Messi to the crown. Between them, the Portuguese and the Argentine had won the previous seven awards, with Messi just ahead, having received the award four times to Ronaldo’s three. However, Cristiano Ronaldo had won the last two and Messi was under pressure to reclaim the title of being the best player in the world.
To many, it was never in doubt. Messi had been a pivotal part of the team that had won five trophies, including an exceptional treble of La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. The little wizard clocked up 52 goals and 26 assists in 61 games during the calendar year, and even Ronaldo admitted that he thought Messi was going to win in a TV interview with Jonathan Ross.
All in all, the big awards didn’t throw up any real surprises, and those that attended the ceremony in Zurich, along with those that watched at home, will surely have been left with the feeling that the right people won this year’s accolades.
The door has been closed on another exceptional year for the beautiful game with the gauntlet once again laid down by the sport’s very best. Will 2016 be the year that Ronaldo and Messi have their dominance broken? Will Neymar or Pogba rise to the fore and win the award? Can a player from the Premier League break into the top three for the first time since Ronaldo’s nomination as a Manchester United player in 2009?
With the European Championship taking place this year, it will be interesting to see what bearing the competition has on the final results, and whether that will help or hinder some of Europe’s best players, or whether South America’s finest will continue to dominate.
Either way, it is undeniable that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world at this moment in time, and that he had the most sensational 2015. On that basis, the Barca star deserves his record fifth Player of the Year award.