Lionel Messi was last night awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the third successive year.
Barcelona’s 24-year-old Argentina striker beat team-mate Xavi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo to the title of the world’s best player.
Messi, man of the match in the Champions League final in 2011, also helped win the Primera Division, Spanish Supercopa, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup last year.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Xavi both paid tribute to Messi.
Ferguson said Messi could now be judged alongside the greats of world football through the ages, even though he is still only 24.
“Critics have always questioned whether players like Pele from the 50s could play today,” said Ferguson.
“The answer to that is great players would play in any generation. Lionel Messi could play in the 1950s and the present day, as could Di Stefano, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff because they are all great players.
“Lionel Messi without question fits into that category.”
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were both included in the world XI dominated by Spain-based players.
Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola was named coach of the year; Japan’s women’s World Cup-winning captain Homare Sawa the women’s player; Japan’s (male) manager Norio Sasaki coach of the year for women’s football; the Japanese FA were awarded the FIFA fair play award; Brazilian 19-year-old sensation Neymar won the FIFA Puskas award for the best goal of 2011.
Ferguson received the FIFA presidential award for services to football.
The 70-year-old Scot was presented with the award by FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland.
Ferguson praised United’s past and present players for sharing his vision of the game.
He said: “It is an honour for me in the twilight of my life and very, very much appreciated.
“I have been a very, very lucky manager to have had so many good players who have shared my vision and passion, and that’s what makes Manchester United such a special club.”
The FIFPro World XI was:
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Xavi (Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Man Utd).