Five years on, Ronaldo back as world’s best

Source:Agencies Published: 2014-1-17 21:58:01

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid gets emotional as he collects his award with his son during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 on Monday in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo: CFP

It has taken Cristiano Ronaldo a long time to be back on top of the world.

Since winning the Ballon d'Or for the first time after leading Manchester United to Champions League glory in 2008, he has been relegated into second place in three of the last four years as Barcelona rival Lionel Messi won the award for an unprecedented four consecutive times.

On Monday, however, he was finally crowned World Player of the Year for a second time as he beat Messi and Bayern Munich's quintuple-winning playmaker Franck Ribery to soccer's highest individual award.

By swapping Manchester for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, Ronaldo accepted the challenge of constant comparisons with Messi.

Unfortunately for the Portuguese, though, his marriage with the world's richest club initially wasn't as perfect as he had envisaged.

Barca and Messi's dominance has continued as they have racked up 12 trophies to Madrid and Ronaldo's three since he moved to Spain.

The Catalans were once again superior on a collective level in 2013 as they sealed their 22nd league title with a club record 100 points.

However, with Messi's year having been blighted by injuries, the last 12 months did signal a change on the individual front for Ronaldo.

Despite his remarkable goal scoring record, Ronaldo wasn't always greeted with the hero's worship he thought he deserved from the club's fans.

Yet, driven by fear that he could have been running down his contract with the intention of leaving Madrid, 2013 marked a turning point in the adulation Ronaldo now receives every time he steps foot inside the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real commander

Ronaldo finally quashed any speculation surrounding his future by extending his contract with Madrid until 2018 in September in a deal that saw him become the world's best paid player.

And the backing he now receives was most visibly displayed when thousands of Real fans donned masks of their hero in support of his bid to win the Ballon d'Or following incendiary comments from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Blatter had described Ronaldo as a "commander" given his serious nature on the field and said he personally preferred Messi's more humble image.

The Swiss' words, though, only seemed to fan the flames of Ronaldo's already sensational form as he went on to score 15 times in his next eight matches.

Most importantly in that run, he ensured Portugal wouldn't miss out on this year's World Cup in Brazil by scoring all four of his country's goals in their 4-2 aggregate playoff win over Sweden.

The impact in particular of his stunning hat trick in the second half of the second leg in Stockholm was such that FIFA conveniently decided to extend the voting period for the Ballon d'Or by two weeks and allow those that had already cast their votes to change them.

How much of an impact that change of dates made is unclear.

Ribery can certainly feel hard done by after Bayern steamrollered the competition on their way to winning five trophies in 2013.

Yet, despite his lack of collective silverware, Ronaldo's individual brilliance cannot be overlooked.

His 66 goals in 56 games for club and country was more than Messi and Ribery's combined total of 65.

Ronaldo also led the way in the most demanding environment of all, the Champions League, finishing as last season's top scorer and becoming the first man to ever score nine times in just five group games this season.

Moreover, at both club and international level he has managed to revise the previously popular image of him as a petulant and selfish player.

At the age of 28, this is a more mature Ronaldo than the one who won the Ballon d'Or five years ago.

A captain and star that, as he showed that night in Stockholm, takes responsibility and leads by his example.

A maturation process that has finally seen him topple Messi as the world's best.

Becoming a legend

However, Brazil great Pele said Ronaldo must continue to maintain his exceptional high standards in order to be classed among the sport's legends.

"To me the last true great was [French playmaker Zinedine] Zidane. He stayed at the same very high level for at least 10 years," Pele, who was awarded a honorary Ballon d'Or, told France Football magazine on Tuesday.

Ronaldo is on the right path, though and reminded the three-times World Cup winner of former Portugal striker Eusebio, the top scorer at the 1966 World Cup who died earlier this month at 71.

"Today Messi and Ronaldo are above the rest. Ronaldo reminds me a bit of Eusebio, he is well bred. He has the elegance and the creativity of the great players," Pele said.

Winning the World Cup used to have greater significance in the voting for the Ballon d'Or but the success of Ronaldo and Messi proved that was no longer true, according to the Brazilian.

"It is perhaps less important than it used to be when I was playing," said Pele of the showpiece tournament that the duo will look to win for the first time later this year.

"I'm not saying it is not essential to win the World Cup but the Champions League now has the same considerable impact celebrity-wise.

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