In a London theater, legendary former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger greets Cafu and hugs the penta captain. Pep Guardiola arrives and sits nearby. In the front row, Marta chats animatedly. I and the other journalists are in the top rows. An announcement over the loudspeaker asks everyone to take their seats, the ceremony is about to begin.
The Best, FIFA’s annual award that chooses the best in the world, brings together the cream of football. The award considered the main one of the night, the best player on the planet, generated debate over the choice of Lionel Messi – the period of analysis did not include the World Cup. Many thought Erling Haaland should have taken it. Messi didn’t go, and the presenter, Frenchman Thierry Henry, disguised it, joking that he would get the prize: “I never won”, “I came!”.
The discussion is valid. However, I prefer to focus on what I consider the success of the night: praising women’s football.
All the awards were presented by women, including Formiga. At the opening, a clip showed incredible plays from the Women’s World Cup, played last year. In a tournament with record attendance and viewership, it was clear that the sport is attractive and a big deal.
The women’s criteria included the World Cup period and it was expected that champion Spain and runner-up England would dominate the awards. Spaniard Aitana Bonmatí was voted best in the world. Sarina Wiegman, coach of the England national team, the best coach of a women’s team.
And the most exciting moment was from a Brazilian. Marta, six times best in the world, received a tribute from Pelé’s wife for her career. And she will be immortalized. The female version of the Puskás award, for the most beautiful goal, will be named after her.
I spoke to Marta after the ceremony. “I had an idea that something would happen, that I would present some award, but not an honor like this,” he told me. “The first for someone in activity and in life. A very great pride. As I shared in my speech, I want women to feel motivated and determined to follow, fight for their goals, not just in sport, in any profession.”
The tone of the response is not surprising. Marta is committed and altruistic. Whenever she can, she uses her status to encourage women. And she is humble. I asked about her size in sport. “I don’t try to focus on myself, but it’s nice to hear from you, from people, it shows that I’m doing the right thing, fighting for causes that are worthwhile for society.”
The most charismatic speech was that of Brazilian Guilherme Madruga, who thanked his parents after winning the Puskás with a great bicycle kick for Botafogo de Ribeirão Preto. Guilherme told me that he dreams of playing for the national team and in the Premier League. “I exchanged ideas with Cafu, with Ederson, I greeted Rúben Dias, Pep Guardiola. I couldn’t imagine that I would be with them, it feels like I’m in a video game, it’s something surreal in my life.”
Zagallo won a beautiful tribute. Ederson, from Manchester City, was named best goalkeeper. The Brazilian team won the Fair Play award for wearing an all-black uniform in the friendly against Guinea, in repudiation of the racism suffered by Vinicius Junior. Ronaldo, Cafu, Belletti, Julio Cesar, Roberto Carlos and Roque Júnior received the honor on behalf of the team.
There are those who don’t care about the award, or are still debating who is the best in the world. Before Messi and Haaland, I’m more Marta.
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