KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —- Football’s awards keep coming thick and fast. So many of them now cluttering up the international football celebrity calendar that FIFA found itself staging The Best prize-giving while Africa and Asia were both staging the group stages of their men’s continental championships.

Not that it mattered because the world football federation had decided that women’s football should take centre stage at London’s iconic Hammersmith Apollo. Centre stage to such an extent that there was not even a video glimpse there of president Gianni Infantino.

Thus the concluding presentation was not the Best Men’s winner as per tradition but the Best Woman player award which went to runaway favourite Aitana Bonmati of Women’s World Cup winners Spain. Handing over the trophy, in the male president’s stead, was female FIFA vice-president Debbie Hewitt, chair of the Football Association.

Bonmati was a worthy winner though eyebrows were raised about Leo Messi receiving the FIFA men’s award for a record-extending seventh time. Even Messi, who was absent, may have thought that winning a farewell French league title with Paris Saint-Germain and United States League Cup with Inter Miami hardly represented his most memorable year.

In fact Messi and runner-up Erling Haaland both claimed 48 points from the poll among national team coaches and captains. The prize went to Messi by virtue of more first-place nominations. Third with 35 points was France captain Kylian Mbappe.

In Messi’s absence Bonmati had the top-prize microphone to herself. Paying tribute to her Spain and Barcelona team-mates, she said: “Without all of you I wouldn’t be here and be the player I have come to be today as part of a powerful generation of women who are changing the rules of the game and the world.”

Marta’s exhortation

Similar ambition was expressed by Brazil’s everlasting Marta, six times a FIFA winner and whose name will go on a best women’s goal award.

Marta, recipient of a special award, said: “This goes beyond football: I want every single woman to see the promise of a future not just directed to football or sport but to any activity they want because what we search for every day is to try to make the world better for everyone, without distinction.”

On that theme the FIFA Fair Play award went to Brazil’s national team for wearing an all-black kit in protest against racism and the vitriolic abuse directed by some Spanish fans at Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr.

Yet another Brazilian success was registered in the Puskas Goal of the Year competition by Guilherme Madruga, who scored with an overhead bicycle kick from outside the penalty area for Botafogo against Novorizontino in the 2023 Campeonato Serie B.

Child’s play

Other accolades bound for South America included the men’s goalkeeper prize to Manchester City’s Brazilian No1 Ederson as well as the fan award to Hugo Daniel ‘Toto’ Iniguez, a Colon Santa Fe supporter. The fruit market porter had been caught on camera bottle-feeding baby son Tiziano during a game.

Iniguez came on stage with his offspring to receive the trophy though Tiziano did not appreciate the honour and cried throughout the presentation.

European women prize-winners alongside Bonmati included repeat successes for England’s Mary Earps as best woman goalkeeper and England boss Sarina Wiegman as best woman coach.

Europe’s male winners were headed by Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola as Best Men’s coach ahead of Italians Luciano Spalletti and Simone Inzaghi. Guardiola was always the favourite after Manchester City’s treble success in Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.

Inzaghi guided Inter Milan to the 2023 Champions League final, where they lost 1-0 to City, while Spalletti won Serie A with Napoli to end the club’s 33-year wait for the title.

No fewer than six of Guardiola’s players were selected in the FIFPRO Men’s World XI and Guardiola described “living and working with them is the best award I can have.”

Team game

FIFA FIFPRO Men’s World XI: Courtois (Belgium, Real Madrid) – Walker (England, Manchester City), Stones (England, Man. City), Ruben Dias (Portugal, Man. City)– Bernardo Silva (Portugal, Man. City), Bellingham (England, Real Madrid), De Bruyne (Belgium, Man. City)– Messi (Argentina, Inter Miami), Haaland (Norway, Man. City), Mbappe (France, Paris Saint-Germain), Vinicius Jr (Brazil, Real Madrid).

FIFA FIFPRO Women’s World XI: Earps (England, Manchester United) – Olga Carmona (Spain, Real Madrid), Lucy Bronze (England, Barcelona), Greenwood (England, Man. City) – Keira Walsh (England, Barcelona), Russo (England, Arsenal), Lauren James (England,  Chelsea), Ella Toone (England, Man. Utd), Aitana Bonmati (Spain, Barcelona) – Morgan (United States, San Diego Wave), Kerr (Australia, Chelsea).