The Best FIFA awards: How Messi won on tiebreaker, Pep swears on stage, Henry’s Spurs jibe

The Best FIFA Football Awards took place in London on Monday as the great and good of the professional game descended upon the Hammersmith Apollo for one of football’s most prestigious annual gala evenings.

Argentina and Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (who also played for Paris Saint-Germain in the first half of 2023) and Aitana Bonmatí of Spain and Barcelona were the big winners on the night, both taking home The Best FIFA Player award in the men’s and women’s category respectively.

Pep Guardiola and Sarina Wiegman collected the men’s and women’s Best FIFA Coach awards, and Manchester City and England also scooped The Best FIFA Goalkeeper awards as City’s Éderson and Manchester United’s Mary Earps saw their impressive form throughout 2023 acknowledged.

The FIFA Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal of the year was claimed by Guilherme Madruga for his outrageous bicycle kick scored for Botafogo against Novorizontino in the Brazilian second division.

Furthermore, Brazil legend Marta was bestowed with The Best FIFA Special Award in recognition of her stellar 20-year career, thus joining the likes of Christine Sinclair, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé as recipients of the honour.

However, along with all the assembled talent and trophies on show, there may well have been a few other aspects of The Best FIFA Football Awards for 2023 that were missed among all the razzle, dazzle, glitz and glamour.

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While Messi ultimately emerged on top, the contest for The Best FIFA Men’s Player award could hardly have been much closer, with Erling Haaland only finishing as runner-up after a tiebreaker scenario.

Both players received 48 points in the vote, which was conducted by national team coaches and captains, selected journalists and fans on FIFA’s website (with each contingent accounting for 25% of the overall poll) who were all asked to pick their top three nominees for each award.

With Messi and Haaland level on points after the votes were counted, the award ultimately was given to Messi after the Argentina star attracted more first-place nominations from the men’s national team captains than his Norwegian rival. As shown by the below graphic posted on FIFA’s social media channels, this is the slimmest winning margin since The Best FIFA Men’s Player award was created in 2016 and the first time that it has had to be settled in such a manner.

In the interest of transparency, FIFA produced a full list of who voted for whom in The Best FIFA Awards poll, which makes for interesting reading.

For example, Real Madrid midfielders Luka Modric and Federico Valverde — captains of Croatia and Uruguay, respectively — were happy to put any lingering El Clasico hostilities aside to vote for Barcelona legend Messi as their No. 1 men’s player, much to the chagrin of fans on social media.

At least Brazil captain Casemiro toed the party line, with the ex-Real midfielder eschewing Messi in favour of handing Haaland his vote for the best player of 2023, despite him now being a cross-town rival of the City striker at Manchester United.

Conversely, England men’s coach Gareth Southgate did not see fit to include Messi in his top three at all, with former rival and Portugal captain Pepê also choosing to omit the ex-Barca star entirely.

For the record, Messi opted to give his first-choice pick to Haaland over former Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappé in second, while his third-place vote went to fellow Argentina international forward Julián Álvarez.

Pep Guardiola was in wonderfully undiplomatic form at the Best FIFA Awards gala as the Manchester City coach dropped an unscripted “F” bomb live on stage during the ceremony.

Guardiola was asked by ceremony co-host and former Barcelona player Thierry Henry to pick which of his two greatest teams were the best — his irresistible Barça team of 2009 or his all-conquering City treble-winners of 2023.

When put on the spot, the pressure of making the choice got to the bamboozled coach, who could at first only reply with an exasperated expletive.

With Messi unable to attend the ceremony to pick up his award in person, Henry picked up the award in the absence of his former Barça teammate.

Arsenal legend Henry was co-hosting the awards with Reshmin Chowdhury, a British TV presenter and journalist who just happens to be a supporter of Arsenal’s local rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

In the act of picking up the trophy on Messi’s behalf. Henry simply couldn’t resist having a cheeky dig at Spurs’ 16-year trophy drought.

“Unfortunately the winner is not here, so someone is going to have to take the trophy,” Henry said. “I will take it.

“I actually have two reasons for taking it. I never won it, so I’ll keep it,” the Frenchman joked, before turning to Chowdhury.

“And you are a Tottenham fan right? You usually don’t get your hands on a trophy, so I’ll take this one. Thank you very much.”


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