Wednesday 09 March 2016, 08:39

Argentina’s other Gala winner

To rub shoulders with some of the leading names in world football and participate in the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala is the stuff of dreams for most fans of the beautiful game. For Juan Manuel Cordoba, however, it became a reality when, as winner of FIFA Ultimate Trivia 2015, he was the deserving recipient of a superb trip to Zurich with a companion for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. spoke with the Argentinian about his memories of the trip and his evening at the Gala.

“It was my first time in Europe and a trip I’d wanted to make for a very long time. I know nearly every corner of my homeland but had never been to the Old Continent,” said the 30-year-old. Born in La Playosa district of Cordoba, Juan Manuel currently resides in Buenos Aires, where he works in a city-centre hotel.

“I travelled with my friend Javier Garay, who is also from the same town and a colleague of mine at the hotel. I told him to pack some winter clothes and, while he is not as fanatical about football as I am, he jumped at the chance to come. We arrived on Saturday 8th January and immediately headed out to explore Zurich, walking everywhere and visiting the Observation Tower overlooking the city. Zurich is a beautiful place, very different to the cities we’d visited before,” he explained.

The day of the FIFA Ballon d’or Gala was the culmination of the three-day trip to Switzerland and one that will live long in the memory. “When we arrived we bumped into German (Women’s World Player) nominee Celia Sasic, but we didn’t linger as we were keen to get in for the pre-Gala cocktail. Everything was spectacular and extremely well organised; football was all around you. There were all the officials and people speaking every language - we made contacts everywhere. It was just marvellous,” added the Argentinian.

A lucky charm for Messi Juan Manuel was also excited by the prospect of seeing his compatriot Lionel Messi lift his fifth Ballon d’Or, saying: “I really believed he could win it as he’d had a spectacular year. Javier and I joked that we’d bring him luck because he hadn’t won it for a couple of years. And so it transpired. When his name was announced we couldn’t contain our emotions, as we couldn’t believe we’d been lucky enough, not just to win the trip, but also to see an Argentinian win.”

“We took countless photos of the trophies and the giant hanging banners, and of all the friends we made there,” Juan Manuel recalled. He was also thrilled to have met “two phenomena” in the form of compatriots Carlos Bilardo and Jorge Sampaoli. His one regret? “That was not being able to see Messi on the red carpet as we’d arrived before him. Hopefully there’ll be another chance as I intend to keep playing Trivia, just like I’ve been doing for several years.”

Before signing off, the Argentinian told us about the hours after the awards. “We were so happy and enjoying ourselves so much that we were the last to leave the event. Then to make the most of our stay, we capped a long day by heading out clubbing in Zurich. That completed the experience for us,” he said with a laugh.