What a difference a year makes for Ronaldo

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Just over 12 months ago Real Madrid did not know how much more they were going to get out of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the two greatest players in the world, and the most expensive after Florentino Perez splashed out a world-record £80 million for his services in 2009.

"I'm sad -- when I don't celebrate goals it's because I'm not happy," said the Portuguese superstar last September. Alarm bells started to ring. How much longer would Ronaldo be at the Bernabeu? Rumours of a return to Manchester United were sounded, big-spending Paris St Germain were also on the case and AC Milan had shown interest too -- who wouldn't?

The former United man was not exactly out of form, he was still ripping defences to shreds in La Liga and the Champions League, but his heart seemed elsewhere as he struggled to win over the Bernabeu crowd, and struggled to overthrow Lionel Messi as the world's greatest player, a task her perhaps felt his club was not helping him out too well with.

He was the most expensive player in the world, earning a very tidy monthly wage at the most successful club in the world. Ronaldo dreamed of pulling on the famous all-white yet that dream was not working out as he envisaged.

Fast-forward 12 months and things could not be much different for a player now widely regarded as the best on the planet, on current form at least. Hat tricks here, hat tricks there, hat tricks everywhere. Leading Madrid to domestic and European success, and dragging his country to next year's World Cup in Brazil, too. They say you hit top form in your late twenties and Ronaldo is proving that case to be correct.

After doubts surrounding his future, Ronaldo this week gave Los Blancos arguably their best news of the season by confirming he wants to stay at the club for the rest of his career. He's happy, he's scoring goals, and he's confident of winning the European Cup for a second time as Madrid searches desperately for La Decima.

"I feel a person who is 100 percent happy," he said. You can tell. Ronaldo's latest exploits came in scoring a hat-trick to see Portugal through to Brazil with victory over Sweden. There was a chance the Madrid talisman may not have been at the sport's greatest competition but he made sure that was not the case. The world watched, and it was impressed.

Now, although personally denying it, Ronaldo is awaiting the Ballon d'Or. Bayern's Franck Ribery and Barca's Lionel Messi are his biggest rivals for the accolade but the former United man's form over the last few months has helped to nudge him into the position of favourite. Messi's injury setback, coupled with Frenchman Ribery excelling, but more as part of a hugely successful Munich team, has played a part in that, too.

It's rather ridiculous, however, yet typical, that FIFA has extended the deadline to vote for the best player in the world. The deadline for international players, managers and journalists to vote had been Friday, November 15 -- the day of Portugal's play-off victory over Sweden -- but that was moved back a week with FIFA saying not enough votes had been submitted. They look for at least 75 percent of the votes being returned and hinted that had not been the case.

It should work in Ronaldo's favour, of course, given the superb performance in front of the watching world he produced against Sweden. The Portuguese has been the talk of the footballing world for the last week and a few more votes should undoubtedly go his way.

The reaction is not the same in France, however, who hoped to see their man Ribery rewarded for his all-conquering year with the German giants. Maybe the move was one big apology by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who angered Ronaldo with comments about his hair care when comparing him with Messi. No apology needed, Sepp -- your comments only acted to fire Ronaldo into arguably the form of his career.

The Ballon d'Or drama may act to slightly tarnish this year's award. Pro-Messi and Ribery fans will say the voting extension has worked in favour of Ronaldo and made him clear favourite to win it this year. They may say the goal posts have been shifted, and unfairly so. But that won't, and shouldn't bother Ronaldo. He will finish the year with more goals than his nemesis in Catalonia and more crucial performances to help his side to victory. As good as Ribery has been this year, his medal haul with Bayern has been the stand-out stat and although impressive, the honour is an individual one, not a team one.

Whichever way the voting goes, Madrid has the best player in the world, currently, on its books for my money, and now they have a happy one, too. If Ronaldo has been breathtaking since he burst onto the scene at Old Trafford all those years ago, get set for what could be the best few years of an extremely talented player's career, and appreciate it.

If one Ronaldo was bad enough to deal with, spare a thought for Galatasaray on their visit to the Spanish capital in the Champions League next week. Two Madrid supporters' clubs have grouped together to print out 40,000 Ronaldo masks for supporters to wear of their hero. That may be a fantastic gesture or quite a scary one, depending on how you look at it, but just acts to confirm Ronaldo, at long last, is loved, and at home, at the Bernabeu. The world -- watch out.


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