From World Player of the Year to The Best: 30 years of history

22 Nov 2021
  • Every year, FIFA designates the world’s best player

  • Men’s award celebrating its 30th anniversary this year

  • Join us for a look back at the stars and stats of the award’s history

For 30 years, FIFA has been recognising the men’s player of the year at its annual gala, with the very first FIFA World Player Trophy awarded in 1991.

To mark this anniversary, FIFA.com traces its 30-year history with 30 stats about one of the most coveted accolades in world football.

1 - The first recipient of the FIFA World Player Trophy was Germany’s Lothar Matthaus back in 1991, when he was starring for Inter Milan. The Nationalmannschaft midfielder took top spot that year ahead of France's Jean-Pierre Papin and England's Gary Lineker.


2 - A runner-up at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn also came second in that year’s World Player vote behind Brazil’s Ronaldo, who had put two goals past him in the deciding game of Korea/Japan 2002. It remains the best result by a goalkeeper, with only his compatriot Manuel Neuer coming close to emulating it with his third-place finish in 2014.


3 - As in the number of times Xavi Hernandez was voted third best player, a feat he managed in three successive editions between 2009 and 2011. The former Spain midfielder holds the record in this regard.


4 - His former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi did even better, though, picking up the top prize four times in a row between 2009 and 2012. In all, he has received the trophy a record six occasions.

5 - To date, five different Brazilians have won the award: Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Romario, Rivaldo and Kaka. In terms of number of winners, Brazil remains the most successful country.

FIFA World Player Gala 1997, Paris. Award winners Ronaldo (BRA, left) and Roberto Carlos (BRA, right) with Pele (BRA, middle)

6 - Six English clubs – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle – have had one of their players on the podium, making the English Premier League the leading championship in terms of clubs represented. To date, however, no English player has taken the top prize.


7 - Portugal holds the record for most second places, with the country providing the runner-up no fewer than seven times, including six by Cristiano Ronaldo alone.


8 - The top award has gone to a Brazilian on eight occasions. Portugal and Argentina are joint second in terms of winner’s nationalities with six apiece.


9 - As in the shirt number of the most recent winner: Bayern Munich's Polish goal machine Robert Lewandowski.


10 - The number of countries that have provided at least one World Player of the Year: Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Germany, France, Liberia, Netherlands, Croatia, Poland and Italy.

11 - The number of times the winner was playing for Barcelona. In this category, the Catalan side lead their arch-rivals Real Madrid, who have celebrated a Blanco on the top of the podium an equally impressive nine times.


12 - While Lionel Messi has picked up one more World Player award than Cristiano Ronaldo (six compared to five), the pair have each been runner-up on six occasions.


13 - Argentina's Lionel Messi has had the most top-three finishes, stepping onto the podium 13 times between 2007 and 2020. His nearest challenger in this respect is again CR7, who has been there 12 times.


14 - As in the number of years since Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo first made the podium. The pair finished second and third place respectively behind Kaka in 2007.


15 - You have to go back 15 years to find the last time a defender took top honours. The player in question was Fabio Cannavaro, who picked up the award in 2006 a few months after his World Cup triumph with Italy.


16 - There has not been an English player in the top three for 16 years, with Frank Lampard the last to make the podium in 2005.


17 - In the history of the award, only 17 clubs, all European and all coming from England, Spain, France, Germany or Italy, have had their players finish in the top three.


18 - Eighteen goals in 17 Bundesliga games was the impressive ratio attained by Robert Lewandowski at the beginning of the 2020/21 season, when he was named The Best – FIFA Men’s Player.


19 - The game’s best player was known as the FIFA World Player for 19 years (1991 – 2009). From 2010 to 2015, the award was merged with the Ballon d'Or. In 2016, FIFA rebranded the award as The Best FIFA Men's Player.

20 - Twenty was the age of the youngest ever recipient of the award, Brazil’s Ronaldo in 1996.

21 - It was not until the 21st edition in 2011 that the order of the top three was the same as a previous edition. The trio in question were Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Xavi, who finished in that order in 2009 and again in 2011.


22 - As in the number of years that Barcelona provided at least one of the top-three players. The Blaugrana have been the most represented club on the World Player podium with 29 appearances.


23 - It was 23 years ago that Zinedine Zidane won his first FIFA World Player award. The Frenchman remains the only person to have been voted both best player and best men’s coach, after being awarded the latter in 2017.


24 - As in the number of percentage points – rounded up to the nearest whole number – that separated Cristiano Ronaldo’s share of the vote from Lionel Messi’s in 2017 (43.16 per cent to 19.25 per cent). This remains the largest difference between first and second in the award’s history.

25 - As in the percentage of the overall vote the general public have in deciding The Best FIFA Men’s Player since 2016.

26 - You have to go back all of 26 years to find the one and only African to be named FIFA World Player: the Liberian George Weah.

27 - The number of times the podium has featured players from different continents. Only three podiums out of 30 have been composed exclusively of Europeans: 1991, 1992 and 2001.

28 - Twenty-eight-years-old is the most common age for a player to pick up the game’s most prestigious individual award. To date it has happened five times with the winners in question being: Marco van Basten (1992), Romario (1994), Zinedine Zidane (2000), Cristiano Ronaldo (2013) and Lionel Messi (2015).

29 - Twenty-nine goals in 24 matches for club and country is the incredible stat achieved since the start of the 2021/22 season by Robert Lewandowski. The irrepressible Pole will be hoping to retain his title at the upcoming edition.

30 - As in the age of this trophy, first awarded in 1991 to Lothar Matthaus.