By Andrew Warshaw in Zurich
January 9 – As widely anticipated, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo was duly crowned FIFA’s World Best player at a no-expense-spared gala in Zurich on Monday but the glittering awards ceremony – rival to the Ballon d’Or from which FIFA recently disassociated itself – was marred by a fierce attack on Barcelona for snubbing the world governing body’s inaugural showpiece event.
A couple of hours before the great and the good of world football arrived in a fleet of limousines for the black-tie occasion, most of them greeted with ear-splitting squeals and screams from hundreds of fawning young autograph hunters, one of the most recognisable of the guests made his feelings known about the hidden agenda of the evening.
Speaking to reporters as part of a pre-arranged legends media briefing close to the headquarters of Swiss tv where the Best FIFA Awards gala took place, Roberto Carlos, even more of a Real Madrid icon than Ronaldo having played for the club for 11 years, didn’t mince his words as he stoked up the rivalry between Real and Barca, who had no fewer than four players (five if you include the transferred Danny Alves) in the team of the year without any of them making the trip to Zurich.
“It’s a little bit strange that Barcelona haven’t appeared for a gala of this importance,” declared the former Brazilian international fullback, now 43. “It shows a lack of respect for FIFA. We’re here and let’s represent football.”
“Real Madrid, based on the season it’s had, is considered the best team in the world, with a great squad. The truth is that it’s a bit sad that Barcelona haven’t come.”
Turning specifically to the absence of Lionel Messi, who was runner-up to Ronaldo on the night (34.54 percent of the vote compared to 26.42) – just as he played second fiddle at the Ballon d’Or last month – Roberto Carlos added: “He needs to understand he should be here. It creates a certain sadness not to have the great players from Barcelona here.”
When it was pointed out that Ronaldo has also been guilty of failing to attend on occasions when Messi won the prized award – now split into two separate accolades – Roberto Carlos added: “Cristiano, I believe, has learned, and I think Leo will. It’s clear we want to see Messi and the other big players, and the coach of Barcelona. We must change this.”
Earlier an official statement from Barcelona confirmed that none of the club’s superstars had travelled in order to prepare for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey game against Athletic Bilbao. Following last week’s 2-1 first-leg defeat, Barca must win when the two sides meet again, or get knocked out before the quarterfinals.
But that, Roberto Carlos argued, was no excuse citing the fact that Real had a game themselves 24 hours later.
Although Barca skipper Andres Iniesta delivered a video message on behalf of the absentees, the Catalan travelling party was led by club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, joined by a number of various directors.
“With the aim of prioritising preparations for Wednesday’s game against Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona have decided that the players recognised in the Gala The Best FIFA Awards, which takes place on Monday in Zurich, will not be travelling to Switzerland for the ceremony,” the Barca statement said.
“FC Barcelona thank FIFA, its president Gianni Infantino and the executive structure for the organisation’s help in being able to take part in today’s gala. The club expresses their recognition and support for the Best FIFA awards.”
As for the often dazzling event itself on a freezing night in Zurich, voting was by national team captains and coaches, selected journalists and, for the first time, an online poll of fans. Each category counted for 25% of the points.
Before the eight awards were presented, FIFA president Gianni Infantino strode on to centre stage and couldn’t resist a bit of back-slapping at the expense of the rival Ballon d’Or which for six years, remember, FIFA jointly organised with the magazine France Football.
“For the first time we will officially determine who is the best,” Infantino told his star-studded audience. “The official title delivered, of course, by FIFA.”
“We will celebrate legends and actors of football, those who make this beautiful game what it is and make our hearts beat so strongly.”
Except, perhaps, those currently representing Barcelona who were in absentia.
Best Men’s Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal, 34.54% of vote)
Best Women’s Player: Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash, United States: 20.68%)
Best Men’s Coach: Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)
Best Women’s Coach: Silvia Neid (Germany).
Puskás (best goal) award: Mohd Faiz Subri (Penang FA, Malaysia)
Fair Play: Atletico Nacional who asked that Chapecoense be awarded the Copa Sudamericana title after a plane carrying the Brazilian team for the first leg of their maiden Copa Sudamericana final crashed, killing 71 people including virtually the entire visiting squad.
FIFA fan award in recognition of spectator gestures:
Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund fans who joined together for a spine-tingling rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before last season’s Europa League quarter-final.
FIFA-FIFPro World XI:
In positions, based on performances during the period 1 December 2015 to 28 November 2016 inclusive and selected by over 45,000 professional players though, noticeably, not including a single Premier League-based player.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich
Defenders: Daniel Alves, Juventus and Barcelona; Gerard Pique, Barcelona; Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid; Marcelo, Real Madrid
Midfield: Luka Modric, Real Madrid; Toni Kroos, Real Madrid; Andres Iniesta, Barcelona
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Barcelona; Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid; Luis Suarez (Real Madrid)
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