Standing on the stage of Monte Carlo’s Salle des Etoiles Concert Hall, Cesc Fabregas turned his back on the crowd assembled for the Laureus Sport Awards and focused his attention on the video celebrating the career of former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
The now Monaco midfielder, who was presenting his former manager the Laureus lifetime achievement award, could not be blamed for paying such rapt attention, as among those lauding Wenger was old foe Jose Mourinho. “One of the best managers in football history,” he said before he added, “the real respect was always there”.
Although the Portuguese was not present in Monaco, his cameo elicited one of the more lively reactions from the audience that included Prince Albert.
After he received the award, Wenger admitted that Mourinho’s tribute was unexpected. “It was a surprise, yes, because we had some good fights. Time appeases it always,” he said.
Among those to pay homage to the Frenchman in the video were Patrick Vieira, Lee Dixon and David Dein while Fabregas, who played under Wenger from 2003-2011, described him as a “father figure.”
Sportsman of the year Novak Djokovic’s video tribute came from a source much closer to home as his wife Jelena spoke of her love for the current tennis world No. 1. The Djokovics did not have far to travel for the awards, as they are Monte Carlo residents.
The same goes for Didier Deschamps and his backroom staff as they accepted the award for team of the year on behalf of France’s World Cup winning side.
However, American gymnast Simone Biles, reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka and Tiger Woods were not present to collect their prizes for sportswoman of the year, breakthrough of the year and comeback of the year respectively, instead all sent messages over video link.
The awards were hosted by Hollywood actor James Marsden and had a strong focus on the continuing growth of women’s sport as skiing great Lindsey Vonn’s career was recognised by the Laureus Academy with the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award. The greatest female skier of all time, Vonn recently announced her retirement from the sport. She is one of only two female skiers to win four overall World Cups and has won a record eight World Cup downhill titles.
Women in sport also took centre stage as Yuwa, an organisation that works in the rural region of Jharkhand in northern India, received the Laureus Sport for Good Award for their work in using football to improve the lives of young girls from disadvantaged communities. Through football, the girls have overcome violence and built self-confidence.