Cristiano is undoubtedly the world’s best footballer at the moment but his cabinet of team trophies may never do justice to his individual brilliance
Cristiano Ronaldo looked happy tonight – genuinely delighted – that he had been again handed the Ballon d’Or, that trophy he covets more than any other.
He was so overcome with emotion at last year’s event that we were very nearly treated to football’s very own Sally Field “You like me, you really like me” speech from the 1984 Oscars ceremony. This time, with the result in the bag long before the announcement, the reaction was relatively muted, but this is the silverware he wants most of all.
Generally it takes great players to make great teams, but the reverse is also true. There would be no Ronaldo without Angel Di Maria, without Luka Modric, without Sergio Ramos. Those players submit to the collective and embody the awareness of two objectives to their game plan; winning matches and keeping Cristiano happy.
Cristiano did not score in the two games he played in Morocco as Real won the Fifa Club World Cup and lost out on the Golden Ball there to Ramos. Consequently, he went through the motions in the celebrations. It had not been his tournament and so it did not appear to mean a lot to him.
His team had just been crowned the best in the world but being named best player in the world looks to mean a good deal more to Ronaldo. That night he flew to Madeira to unveil a statue of himself outside the museum he had built as an eternal testament to his own brilliance.
In 2014, he became the first player to score 25 goals in five consecutive seasons. He became the first player to score 50 goals in four successive campaigns. He was the first player to score for two winning teams in a Champions League final. He was the top scorer in the Champions League with a record 17 goals. He was the LFP and the Uefa player of the year.
He reached 200 Spanish league goals quicker than any one else in history. He surpassed Raul’s haul of 71 Champions League goals. He shared the European Golden Shoe with Luis Suarez (“I will not lie. I really wanted to win it,” he said of sharing that gong). He became Portugal’s all-time top goalscorer. He became the first Portuguese in history to play and score in three World Cups. All of those things he would have achieved without winning a thing – and some of those things he achieved without getting anywhere near outright victory.
He was, however, not fit for the Champions League final nor was he fit for the World Cup. The magnanimous thing to do would have been to sit both out and allow a fitter colleague contribute more. As things went, Madrid did not need him on the night as they overcame Atletico Madrid in Lisbon. Portugal would have had no worse a tournament had he stayed at home.
The Ballon d’Or has grown this big in the age of Cristiano and Lionel Messi. It is now football’s Oscars night and they have shared the award every year for the past seven. Kaka, in 2007, was the last player to beat either to the award.
It is an award, generally, for the player which best defines the best team in the world. Ronaldo, in that respect, is a deserving recipient this year. His year though was more about what he achieved as an individual than as part of the Real Madrid team.
“If you have a number 10 who scores 15 goals, and a guy who scored 50 goals, there are eight chances out of 10 that guy is going to win the Ballon d’Or,” Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane told Goal. “If Ronaldo keeps scoring 50 to 60 goals a season, it will be hard for the others.”
Even if Ramos had not scored that late equaliser in the Champions League final, then Ronaldo would still have won this. His individual accolades far outstrip what he achieved as part of a group to the extent that la Decima became a footnote in Ronaldo’s 2014.
He celebrated his record-breaking goal in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern by counting to 15 with his hands. He did not flash up a 10 when Real secured la Decima – he took off his shirt and invited the world to feast its eyes.
In this, the age of Ronaldo, the emphasis has shifted from the great teams to the great players. Part of it is because he and Messi are so good and it will not be until both retire until the parameters by which we define greatest will stretch beyond the statistics of Games (Goals) and back to collective achievement.
The validation of being the best, and not merely part of the best, is what motivates. It has led to Ronaldo becoming the greatest modern footballer, and winning things with his club has only been a part of the process of making himself great.
In 12 years as a player for Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo has won four league titles. Consequently, Ronaldo’s collective trophy haul falls a long way short of the individual accolades he has accrued.
Come hell or high water, Ronaldo will score goals and win individual prizes; whether or not his team win collective honours along the way is a secondary consideration. If Real Madrid win trophies then it is a useful upshot of Ronaldo scoring.
But, for all his individual glory, for all his brilliance, and for all the absolute certainty that he is the best player in the world, Ronaldo’s personal quest for perfection remains his curse.