Away from the pitch, the week’s big football story was the awarding of the FIFA Ballon d’Or to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s been a long time in coming, but Ronaldo finally has his second Ballon d’Or and it is an award that is richly deserved – not only for a calendar year of performances for club and country in which no other individual came close to equalling, but for a level of consistency spanning many years during which he has reached a level of performance not matched by too many other footballers.
Since being named European and World footballer of the year in 2008, Ronaldo has gone on to become an even more outstanding footballer than he was under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, although his own heroics have continually been overshadowed by those of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, who has been voted as the world’s best player during each of the previous four years.
What the two players have achieved is remarkable, but when looking at Ronaldo’s achievements at Real Madrid in particular, it’s difficult not to have some sympathy for him that his form has rarely seen individual honours come his way.
In less than five years at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldo has already broken a number of the club’s all-time goalscoring records, including some of those which were previously in the name of Raul, a Real Madrid legend and a first-team regular for 16 seasons.
Raul was one of the most deadly strikers in the world for much of his time at Real Madrid where he burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old, but many of his records have either been beaten already, or will surely be under threat in the next couple of seasons should Ronaldo remain with Los Blancos.
Ronaldo topped 200 club goals for Real Madrid in under four seasons, and to reach that tally at any top-level club would ordinarily be a feat achieved only once in a generation. To do it for Real Madrid is even more special, particularly for a player with the pressure of a world record tranfer fee on his shoulders, and playing for his dream club.
Yet whatever Ronaldo has done, Messi has matched – or bettered. When Ronaldo became the first player to score 40 La Liga goals in a single season in 2010/11, Messi went on to reach 50 only a year later, during a calendar year in which he netted 91 times for club and country.
Ronaldo has watched on as Messi has won Champions League semi finals with moments of brilliance, inspiring his Barcelona side to two Champions League and four La Liga titles since 2009. Each of those years has ended with a two-way battle to be named the planet’s number one player – and each time, it has been Messi who has come out on top.
But with 2013 ending with a long injury lay-off for Messi, and having “only” ended the year with 42 goals to Ronaldo’s 66, the Barcelona number 10 never quite reached the same superhuman standard that he displayed in years gone by. And with Ronaldo’s form remaining at a consistently high standard throughout 2013, it’s likely that even without an injury interrupting Messi’s season, Ronaldo would still have had the edge in this year’s battle for football’s most prestigious individual honour.
Aside from Ronaldo’s club form, he was also instrumental in leading Portugal to the World Cup finals with a stunning four goal haul over the two-legged play-off tie with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.
As a result, the two finest players in the world will have a chance on football’s biggest stage of all to stake their claim for next year’s individual honour, and if serious injury can be avoided, it promises to be another fierce battle between two of the sport’s greats.