Soccer dignitaries from across the globe will gather in Switzerland on Monday when the winner of the 2009 FIFA world player of the year award is announced at a gala ceremony in Zurich.
Voted on by coaches and captains of national teams from around the world, the award was first handed out by FIFA in 1991 and since then some of the game's biggest stars have claimed the honour, including three-time winners Ronaldo of Brazil and Frenchman Zinedine Zidane.
This year's shortlist of candidates includes players from four countries, but they all have one thing in common - they play in Spain's La Liga, a testament to the prestige and quality of what many consider to be the best league in the world.
- 1991 - Lothar Matthaus (Germany)
- 1992 - Marco van Basten (Netherlands)
- 1993 - Roberto Baggio (Italy)
- 1994 - Romario (Brazil)
- 1995 - George Weah (Liberia)
- 1996 - Ronaldo (Brazil)
- 1997 - Ronaldo (Brazil)
- 1998 - Zindedine Zidane (France)
- 1999 - Rivaldo (Brazil)
- 2000 - Zinedine Zidane (France)
- 2001 - Luis Figo (Portugal)
- 2002 - Ronaldo (Brazil)
- 2003 - Zinedine Zidane (France)
- 2004 - Ronaldinho (Brazil)
- 2005 - Ronaldinho (Brazil)
- 2006 - Fabio Cannavro (Italy)
- 2007 - Kaka (Brazil)
- 2008 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Who will win the award this year? We present the case for all the candidates and then offer our prediction below:
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The reigning world player of the year had a bit of an off season in 2008-09 by his high standards, but he still turned heads for Manchester United, helping the Reds win a third consecutive Premiership crown and reach the final of the UEFA Champions League. Spanish side Real Madrid broke the bank in the summer when they paid the English champions the equivalent of $126 million Cdn, a world transfer free record, for Ronaldo's services, making the Portuguese winger the most expensive player in the history of the sport.
The Brazilian playmaker, who won this award in 2007, wasn't exactly at his best last season for AC Milan, as the Rossoneri failed to make a lasting impression in the UEFA Cup and stumbled to a third-place finish in Serie A. Kaka did, however, have a strong year for the Brazilian national team, leading the Selecao to victory in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup. He was also named tournament MVP. Little wonder, then, that Real Madrid paid Milan $102 million Cdn for the Brazilian in the summer, the second-highest transfer fee in history.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The odds-on-favourite to win the award, Messi had a sensational 2008-09 campaign, as FC Barcelona romped to a historic treble, winning the Spanish league title, Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League in easy fashion. The Argentine winger was the heartbeat of a Barcelona side that many are calling the greatest in the team's illustrious history. Messi picked up the prestigious Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) award from France Football magazine earlier this year. Considered by many as the best player on the planet, Messi is destined to become the first Argentine to win the FIFA world player of the year award.
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Like Messi, Iniesta was a key figure in Barcelona's treble-winning season, scoring important goals (including one against Chelsea in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League) and pulling the creative strings from midfield with his sublime passes and playmaking ability. The young midfielder was so good that influential Spanish magazine Don Balon rated him as the most consistent performer in the 2008-09 La Liga season, ahead of teammates Xavi Hernandez and Messi. After Barcelona defeated Manchester United in the Champions League final, Wayne Rooney publically declared Iniesta the best player in the world. High praise, indeed.
Xavi Hernandez (Spain)
He may not be the flashiest of players, but make no mistake about it: Xavi Hernandez is among the best central midfielders in the game today. Named MVP of Euro 2008 when Spain was crowned champion, Hernandez is a sensational playmaker who dictates the pace of the game with his fluid ball control and visionary passing ability. An influential contributor to Barcelona's treble winning season, Hernandez was named man of the match for the UEFA Champions League as he helped guide the Catalans to victory over Manchester United in Rome.
Predicted order of finish:
1) Lionel Messi, 2) Andres Iniesta, 3) Kaka, 4) Cristiano Ronaldo, 5) Xavi Hernandez