Barring a real shock, Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to pick up his second Ballon d’Or in Zurich next month, ending Lionel Messi's unprecedented run of four consecutive awards.
A recent poll from Sky Sports asked readers to vote for who they thought should win it from the three players shortlisted. It was a landslide with 77.8 percent voting for Cristiano, 14.3 percent for Messi and 7.9 percent for Franck Ribery.
Does Ronaldo really deserve to be so far ahead of his two rivals Messi and Ribery? Well that depends on what your criteria for giving the award are.
First and foremost—and before being shot down in flames by all Ronaldo supporters out there—let me say from the start that I have always maintained that CR7, along with Messi, are the two greatest players I have ever seen.
One day we will be able to tell our grandchildren we were once lucky enough to see the two finest footballers in the history of the game on the field at the same time. That said, there have been some extraordinary examples of "goal posts moving" going on here.
The original voting closing date was Nov. 15, but that was extended to Nov. 29 so the World Cup play-offs and the poor amount of voters involved at that point could be taken into consideration. While that might be just about defensible, the decision to allow anyone who had already placed their votes to change them most certainly was not.
The problem with voting for annual awards is that nobody ever really takes into consideration the whole year—they concentrate more on the closing weeks or months.
The fact is, that if awards such as the Ballon d’Or were granted on the basis of trophies won, then the only one of the three-man short list who should be lifting the award on Jan. 13 is Ribery. Last season saw the Frenchman achieve a clean sweep of the league, cup and Champions League with his club, Bayern Munich.
Messi finished the season with another La Liga winners medal, his sixth to date. Ronaldo, despite his extraordinary scoring prowess, won nothing. In fact, since his arrival at the Bernabeu in June 2009, he has won just one La Liga title (2011-12), one Copa del Rey (2010-11) and one Spanish Supercup (2012).
Messi was statistically the stronger player in the first nine months of the year, but what shines out clearer than a desert sun is the fact the Cristiano is finishing the year with all the style, quality and confident panache that marks him as one of the greatest ever.
But that said, even with Messi out injured this season, Ronaldo has not been able to establish himself as the top scorer in La Liga. Across the way at the Vicente Calderon, Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid leads the race for the Pichichi—given annually to the league's top scorer—with 19 goals in 17 games so far.
He has, however, finally established himself as legend in the eyes of the Madrid faithful.
A goal against Valencia saw him equal Alfredo di Stefano’s 71 goals away from home. The next target in his sights is the 87 away goals scored by Raul throughout his long and illustrious career with Los Blancos. Overall, Ronaldo is ranked fifth all-time in goals scored for Real Madrid with 228.
And while he may not top the Pichichi, the record books show that in 2013 he scored a staggering 59 goals in 51 games for his club and 10 goals in nine appearances for his country.
It wasn't that long ago that it was being said that Ronaldo never really showed up for the big games. Tell that to Sweden, against whom he scored all four goals over the two-legged play-off off that saw his country progress to the finals 4-2 on aggregate. Never has the phrase "cometh the hour, cometh the man," been more apposite.
There's nothing to suggest that there's going to be any let up to Ronaldo's prodigious, goalscoring talents in 2014 and to go with that raw greatness and confident swagger, a newfound maturity has developed.
He recently missed an all-but-dead tie in the Champions League, a league match against lowly Real Valladolid and a Copa del Rey match against Xativa with an "injury."
Maybe a look perhaps at the muscle injuries that have plagued Messi have served as a warning shot across his bows; a message that tells him that, in this game, sometimes it is as important to rest when he is less needed so that he can be that much more effective when he is required more.
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