Ronaldo shows his human side to cap fabulous year

Posted by Fernando Duarte

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND -- In the end, Cristiano Ronaldo showed it did matter to him. If, hours before the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich, the Real Madrid and Portugal striker looked uninterested and promised life would go on if he failed to break Lionel Messi’s grip on the coveted trophy, the 28-year-old was clearly overwhelmed when his name was finally announced by Pele at the Kongresshaus in Zurich on Monday night.

Five years after his last win, Ronaldo has been officially recognised as the best footballer on the planet, at least until January 2015.

Tears flooded his eyes and cheeks as he received a prize that, specifically in 2013, seemed to have acquired a particular importance. Eclipsed by Lionel Messi’s spectacular exploits in the last four years, even though his own numbers were hardly dismissible, Ronaldo last year maintained a stunning regularity that injury finally denied to his great rival. The problem is that not everybody agreed.

Among the unconvinced was FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who went further than his clumsy usual ways to personally criticize Ronaldo during an event in England in October. While comparing Messi to the son everybody would like to have, the Swiss’ reference to Ronaldo having "more expenses for the hairdresser," among other things, stung the Portuguese.

Ronaldo, in the last few years, has felt his exploits have been overlooked by peers, the media and company. Whether or not one could question if he was right, it also was naïve to assume he had no point at all when thinking footballing matters were not the only reason why he kept coming short of another Ballon d’Or.

Before you think this is prima donna behaviour, just think of how Pele, after everything he has seen and done in football, still wept when receiving his honorary trophy on Monday. It means a lot.

It was a tough year for Ronaldo, during which Real Madrid once again fell short of that ever elusive 10th European Cup, outplayed by Borussia Dortmund in the last four.

Once again, he would not win the honours that, alongside a humongous pay package, had lured him away from Manchester United in the summer of 2009 (ironically, after he won one Champions League and made it to a second final with the English outfit).

To make matters worse, Portugal faltered during the European qualifiers and missed out on automatic qualification to the World Cup, and then, in the playoffs, were paired with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.

Ronaldo’s wondrous display over two legs -- scoring all four of Portugal’s goals -- was the difference. Regarding the Ballon d’Or, it could have come too late, had FIFA not changed the voting deadline, officially because of the fact that less than 50 percent of the 500-plus voters had cast their ballots by the original Nov. 15 cutoff date.

Cue accusations that FIFA was trying to make amendments for Blatter’s less-than-appropriate comments by giving Ronaldo a helping hand. Bayern Munich saw a conspiracy against fellow nominee Franck Ribery, for instance. It all made for an uneasy buildup to the Zurich gala, and Ronaldo could be excused for feeling a bit edgy.

We tend to forget that these players are also human and have feelings. In his pursuit of excellence, Ronaldo wants kudos, even if a golden trophy is how it is represented.

His is a life of sacrifices, regardless of how much money comes into his bank account, and to see Ronaldo weeping and looking less than cool while trying to thank people for winning that trophy will perhaps shed new light on a player that a good number of people love to loathe.

Ronaldo scored 69 goals in 59 matches in 2013. This should not be forgotten when trying to analyze the Ballon results. It was an interesting year, and some people rightly pointed to the recognition of a team player, in the form of Ribery.

But when even FIFA’s description of the Ballon d’Or praises individual efforts, it is safe to say Ronaldo is hardly a bad fit for the part.

Now let’s see what happens when Messi recovers his best form and whether his spiky-haired Brazilian teammate, Neymar, can also step up to the challenge laid down by Ronaldo.

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