At an awards ceremony otherwise dominated by Barcelona’s all-conquering team, led by Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola, who received the player and coach of the year awards respectively, Ferguson received the President’s Award from Sepp Blatter.
It is the first time Fifa have formally recognised Ferguson during his time at Old Trafford, a reign that has brought 12 Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies.
Blatter said Ferguson’s remarkable tenure at the club was unlikely to be repeated. “Football is all about winning games and titles, and there is nobody better than him,” he said.
“What is extraordinary is that in today’s world, in which coaches are expected to produce instant results or be changed, his longevity is a shining example of what can be achieved through stability, continuity, trust and confidence in one personality.”
Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown offered video tributes to Ferguson, as did José Mourinho and former players Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham.
The United manager, who was also nominated in the coach of the year category alongside Guardiola and Real Madrid manager Mourinho, said the award was a tribute to his club.
“It is an honour to be given this in the twilight of my life and it is very much appreciated. I always feel that no matter the honour I have received, it is recognition for Manchester United, which has always shared my vision.”
On a night when Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were the only Britain-based players to feature in the Fifa team of the year, Ferguson also praised his players, saying: “I have always been lucky to have players who have shared the vision.”
Ferguson’s career began before Guardiola was a professional player, but he rates the Barcelona manager’s magnificent side as the benchmark against which modern teams should be judged.
He said Guardiola’s side were likely to retain the Champions League, and rated Real Madrid as the main contenders ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Saying he would continue at United as long as he was healthy, Ferguson played down the chances of the Barcelona manager succeeding him. “Why would Pep want to leave Barcelona? I think if I was in his position I would firmly stay where I was.
“The Barcelona team at the moment is by far the best team, and we experienced two years of it.
“Sometimes in football you have to hold your hands up and say ‘they’re better than us’. It’s not a crime and it’s not a weakness or lack of belief in my own team, it’s a statement of fact.
“Barcelona, especially with Lionel Messi in the side, is just an extraordinary team and I can’t see anyone taking the [Champions League] trophy from them. I think Real Madrid are probably the closest to them at this moment in time.” No player receives more attention yet appears less affected than Messi, who received his third consecutive Ballon d’Or with typical modesty, saying he wanted to share the prize with team-mate and fellow nominee Xavi.
“It is a huge pleasure for me, it is the third time I have received this award but this one is very special, because I want to share it with my friend and team-mate Xavi.
“It is the fourth time we have been together at this gala and it is a pleasure to be with you on the pitch, so I share it with you. Let’s see how much more we can do.”
Messi won with 47.88 per cent of a vote among national captains, team managers and journalists. Ronaldo was second with 21.6 per cent, followed by Xavi (9.23 per cent), Andrés Iniesta (6.01), Rooney (2.31) and Luis Suárez (1.48).
Messi and Xavi were among five Barcelona players in the Fifa world team of the year that underlined Spanish dominance of the elite game. Danni Alves, Gerard Piqué and Iniesta were joined by four from Real Madrid in Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo and Xavi Alonso. Rooney and Vidic completed the XI.
Copyright 2012 by The Telegraph