Vindicated. That is exactly how Cristiano Ronald felt at this year’s Ballon D’Or as he accepted the accolade of the world’s best player. After playing second fiddle to Argentina ace Lionel Messi, the 28 year old has finally beaten his rival to FIFAs top honour and broke his four year stranglehold on the title. The emotion of the night was clear to see on Ronaldo’s face as he walked up to accept his award with his son Cristiano Jnr in tow. He struggled to hold back the tears as he thanked his teammates at Real Madrid and Portugal. To be honest, it is them that should be thanking Ronaldo who has constantly shone for club and country.
Critics will cite that Messi’s season was hampered by injuries but that would be doing a disservice to Ronaldo who has simply been in the best form of his life. His record speaks for itself – over 1900 passes, just under 200 shots with an accuracy rate of just over 50%. Whilst both Messi and Ribery had better shot accuracy rates and more passes overall, its Ronaldo’s form in front of goal and his all round contribution to Madrid and Portugal that ultimately won him the title. 66 goals in 56 games for any player is impressive and harks to the great players of the past like Puskas, Pele and Eusebio. It was Ronaldo who stepped to single handedly steer Portugal to the World Cup this summer. In the playoffs against a Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired Sweden, Ronaldo knew that he needed to shine brighter than his Swedish counterpart if Portugal were to progress. And oh how he did. Four goals over two legs, Ronaldo covered every inch of the pitch, dominating the rhythm of the matches, leading to teammate Miguel Veloso proclaiming that he was simply “a machine”.
The “machine” continues to improve year over year, making tweaks to his game to steadily improve his all round game. He worked hard with the coaches at Manchester United during his time there on his movement and vision, improving his ability to run at high pace and precision. He dedicated time with Real Madrid’s fitness specialist to perfect his vertical leap which has now made him more effective in the air. And he has spent endless hours watching previous matches he has played in to look for ways to improve his team play. But most of all Ronaldo has matured, from the emotionally frustrated yet talented youngster to the superstar we see today. Becoming a father has undoubtedly helped speed up this process and given him a renewed focus on how he displays himself to the world. This season, we have witnessed a different Ronaldo for Portugal and Madrid. Whilst possessing the ability to win a game single handedly, he now plays for the good of the team. Now playing alongside Gareth Bale, Ronaldo has changed his style and is less selfish than in the past, examining options to pass and incorporate Bale into the play if applicable. Their partnership has become one of the most terrifying in world football, with opposition defenses left bamboozled and unsure of how to cope with them. With 20 goals in La Liga so far (including 2 hat tricks and 4 braces), Ronaldo is in the form of his life and if he can keep it going, it’s hard to see how anyone, even Lionel Messi will be able to wrestle the title of the world’s best player away from him.