In terms of level of success and number of accolades, both individual and collective, this year has been Cristiano Ronaldo’s best. Winning his fourth Ballon d’Or ahead of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann is the icing on the cake for a man who stops at nothing to be regarded as the best footballer in the world, and he fully deserves the award.
His goalscoring rate this year might not have been the best that we have seen from him, with a small slump in form coming in the early stages of this season, but it has still been excellent, such are the Portuguese’s high standards of performance. Yes, Lionel Messi might have more goals and assists than him this year, but it has been the way in which Ronaldo has dragged his club and international teams to success that has won him this prize.
He was the top goalscorer in the Champions League last season with 16 goals in 12 games as Real Madrid won their 11th European cup, defeating Atletico Madrid on penalties in the final in Milan. In that run, he scored in both legs of Los Blancos’ last-16 tie against Roma and also scored a memorable hat-trick in the quarter-final second leg versus Wolfsburg to recover his side from a 0-2 aggregate deficit. The performance he put in against the Germans was one that only the best could deliver as he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck to make sure that his team could defend their title, which is exactly what they did.
The 31-year-old was similarly heroic for his national team at this year’s European Championship as Portugal claimed their first-ever international trophy in Paris. Highlights included a brace in the 3-3 draw with Hungary to help earn what would turn out to be a vital point in the groups and the bullet header to sink Wales in the semi-finals. As captain, though, his performances were more than just scoring goals. The No 7 was a model leader and helped make history for his country, something that he had always wanted to achieve in his career.
The point has been made that the trophies a player has won are not part of the criteria when voting for the Ballon d’Or, but ultimately this is bound to influence voters when they are deciding which player has had a better year. Perhaps it should not make a difference, but Messi’s missed penalty in the penalty shootout of the Copa America final is a stain on a 12-month period that has been phenomenal individually – yet nowhere near the immense amount of success that Ronaldo has enjoyed.
The man himself seems to know exactly why he has won the award once again.
“The emotion is like the first one,” he told France Football after receiving the award. “It’s the dream come true again. I never thought in my mind to win the Ballon d'Or four times, so I’m so pleased and happy.
“There are few that maintain their level year after year, you can count on one hand those that do, and I am one of them. That fills me with pride.”