Ronaldo shines in the spotlight
ESPN FC's network of correspondents are dedicated to bringing you the best news and features from around the globe, and here are some of their favourite moments from 2012.
• Ian Holyman, France Correspondent
I'd interviewed Lionel Messi in Prague earlier in the season, a meeting impressive only for its brevity and his banality. Could there be a more ordinary football genius? Three quick questions and a cheeky wink for my pidgin Spanish and he was off, leaving me to reflect on just how small he really is.
Later in the season, when Barcelona played at Leverkusen, I even deliberately avoided the scrum - and I mean scrum - to get a few crumbs of cliche from the Argentine maestro.
The anti-Messi is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. When it comes to their largely media-fuelled duel, there is certainly room for debate on the pitch. Off it, there is none. While Messi would go unnoticed on any street were he not heavenly gifted, Ronaldo, tall, damned handsome and cut like a 24-carat diamond, has all the 'normal person' quality of a Madame Tussaud's waxwork.
I had never seen Ronaldo play in person, but - like everyone else - had my ideas and pre-ordained notions about the footballer and the man. On the former, those were rather favourable; on the latter, the jury was out until he and I had been within shouting distance of each other.
As you can see, we journalists like to keep an open mind until we've at least had the chance to have our eyes stung by the pungent whiff of a superstar's post-match aftershave in the hurly-burly of the mixed zone.
Sadly, that still hasn't happened, but at least I did get to see him live at Euro 2012 in Portugal's quarter-final against Czech Republic. Heading to the stadium in Warsaw, I was genuinely enthused by the prospect of watching a unique talent. I was not disappointed. One moment, when he took the ball with his back to goal, controlled it and turned 180° in a single, balletic movement, was so filled with outrageous talent that I gasped.
The Czechs clearly knew he was going to be a problem, with five of them hanging off him as he burst forward on one occasion, while one of THOSE free-kicks also hit a post with Petr Cech beaten. When his movement and anticipation got him in front of Theodor Gebre Selassie to head the only goal of the game, I was sold - the boy can play football (as if he needs my seal of approval).
The other noticeable thing was that he takes his football deadly seriously. Only after he had scored did he finally smile, but it was a different story after the game.
Having joined a large group of journalists for the post-match press conference, I sat bemused at the arrival of Ronaldo to pick up the Man of the Match award. Dressed in a pristine, blindingly white, perhaps even bespoke Portugal team tracksuit, the Real Madrid man strolled in without a hair out of place, and - though I was not close enough to get proof of this - no doubt reeking of some masculine fragrance.
I may not have noticed that even if had been near him, because I was transfixed by his smile. It was the most remarkable expression. It did not move throughout the ceremony, his brilliant white teeth clenched in a permanent but slightly disturbing expression, like a ventriloquist's dummy that may or may not exhibit some darker tendencies a psychologist could explain further.
Would the great man speak? No, not a chance - he scurried off with his trophy. Perhaps, given all the lights trained on him up on that stage, he feared he might melt.