Cristiano Ronaldo, or CR7 as he is more popularly known amongst United loyalists, finally won his SECOND Ballon d’Or at the ceremony in Zurich on Monday night.
Coming off a rusty 1-0 Madrid win over Espanyol on the weekend, Ronaldo was, for once, the favorite to win the World Footballer Of The Year award after missing out on it for 3 out of the last 4 years. With a stunning 66 goals in 56 games for club and country in 2013, the Real Madrid superstar ended rival Lionel Messi’s reign at the top after 4 long years. Messi, who had won the Ballon d’Or an unprecedented 4 years in a row before this (the last non-Messi to win the award was…Ronaldo in 2009), finished as runner-up with the votes putting early favorite Frenchman and Bayern Munich player Franck Ribery in third place.
The win was not without minor controversy.
The voting deadline for players and coaches of FIFA was extended 2 weeks in November- which was enough to cover Portugal’s stunning 4-2 win over Sweden to qualify for the World Cup. Ronaldo, incidentally, gave the best individual performance of the year to score a hat trick in the game, and knocked out Ibrahimovic’s team out of contention. Till then, it was Ribery who was favored to win the award, after winning a record 5 trophies for Bayern Munich- who enjoyed arguably the best club season in history in 2013. Messi, who was sidelined due to injury from November, missed a few weeks of this extended deadline that put his rival firmly in the eyes of World glory.
The last time Ronaldo won this award was when a young Messi was yet to hit peak form, with the Portuguese midfielder leading Manchester United to one of their finest moments in the 2008 Champions League final with a win over Chelsea. Back then, Ronaldo had no real rival. Messi then burst out onto the world stage with Barcelona, dominating football for close to 5 years- and he is still only 25. Ronaldo, for 3 out of those 4 years, finished as a painfully frustrated runner-up to the Argentine pocket maestro- who was already being hailed as the best footballer in history.
There will be many more pages of rivalry between these two unheralded stars of modern football- Ronaldo’s trickery and skill against Messi’s mesmerizing weaving and touch- with Ronaldo still at the peak of his career, but yet to win any solid silverware with his Real Madrid team. Messi has won everything there is to win in club football already, but it could be this World Cup in Brazil this year that could very well define his true legacy. Ronaldo has already pushed his own Portugal team into the tournament, and it is yet to be seen if he will once again remain a one-man charge in a team that often falls short on the big stage.
Messi can safely assume his place at par with greats like Maradona and Pele, but his international performance in Brazil will go a long way to cement his throne. He is yet to win a major tournament with Argentina- compared to Pele’s 3 World Cups and Maradona’s single-minded charge in 1986. Messi’s battle is now with himself, already having established himself as the best footballer of his own era, on a consistent basis, over half a decade. Can he drag Argentina over the finish line in July?
Can Ronaldo pull off one of the biggest upsets in world football? First, though, he has to make sure that his Real Madrid outfit win atleast one major trophy this year- or he will be remembered as tragic hero to Messi’s King forever.