For the last few years, the Ballon d’Or has, rightly or wrongly, been awarded to players who have performed in the key games in the year. Cristiano Ronaldo has been intrinsically linked to the award for the past 5 years. First with Manchester United and later with Real Madrid following his £80m move, Ronaldo has always been a candidate for the award to determine the best footballer in the world. He and his rivals have continuously come head-to-head, providing his team progresses to the latter stages of the Champions League.
Ronaldo’s emergence and past winners
Since the beginning of the 2006/07 season, he has scored 233 goals in 295 games. His evolution from being seen as a replacement right winger for David Beckham to playing primarily as a left forward has coincided with a noticeable upturn in his talents. Consequently, his form has risen and the amount of goals he scores has sky-rocketed close to the levels of Gerd Muller and Dixie Dean.
Back in 2007, with Ronaldinho out of form, and with Lionel Messi not quite blossomed into the world class talent he would become, the main candidates for the award were the favourite Kaka and Ronaldo. As the season approached its conclusion, AC Milan and Manchester United had reached the Champions League Semi-Final, where they came head-to-head.
Over the two legged tie, Kaká showed why he was favourite, with 2 first-half goals in the first leg at Old Trafford putting United on the backfoot, despite Ronaldo’s scrappy 5th minute goal. Kaka produced a masterclass in the second leg, scoring his 10th Champions League goal of the season asMilanwon 3-0, while Ronaldo was anonymous throughout. In the final, Kaka was on top form again, producing the assist for Filippo Inzaghi’s second with a wonderful slide rule pass.
A year later, Manchester United were this time faced with the task of beating Barcelona to advance to the final: the first time Ronaldo came head-to-head with Messi. Messi performed superbly over the two legs, despite returning from an injury, while Ronaldo missed a penalty early in the first leg, but neither man could make the breakthrough. It was Paul Scholes who proved the difference on the scoresheet to help United advance to the first ever all-English final.
Ronaldo was on the top of his game in Moscow, threatening the Chelsea defence throughout, offering the type of performance worthy of a Ballon d’Or winner. He may have missed in the shootout, but his header 26 minutes in ensured United had scored their first goal in normal time in a Champions League final since Bobby Charlton put United ahead in 1968. It was his 42nd of the season, and was probably enough for the Golden Boot winner to eventually be crowned the best player in the world.
The 2009 final saw Manchester United looking for back-to-back victories. Their opponents were Barcelona, who were rejuvenated under Josep Guardiola. The final was hyped as a showdown between Messi and Ronaldo, and despite Ronaldo having 3 chances early on, he couldn’t take advantage, and, once Samuel Eto’o put Barca in the lead, Barca never looked back. It was Messi who clinched the tie, with a header, his 38th goal of the season.
It was his prior performances against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid which had earmarked him for the award. First, he scored twice against a team in Bayern, who, in the previous round, had won 12-1 on aggregate. Weeks later, he scored two at the Bernabeu to help humiliate Real Madrid 6-2.
By 2010, the award had been merged with the FIFA Footballer of the Year, and renamed the FIFA Ballon d’Or, while Ronaldo had joined the new Galactico era at Real Madrid, joining the likes of Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema, but they couldn’t advance beyond the Round of 16 in the Champions League, while Portugal struggled in the World Cup.
The award was, perhaps controversially, awarded to Messi, despite him struggling for goals when they mattered in both the Champions League and World Cup, with Barcelona failing to get past Internazionale, while Argentina were hammered 4-0 by Germany. Andres Iniesta, who scored the winner in the World Cup Final, and particularly Wesley Sneijder, the pivotal reason behind the form of both Internazionale and the Netherlands, were overlooked in favour of Messi.
It was in 2011 when the award reached its zenith. Xavi and Iniesta weren’t given a look-in, with Ronaldo and Messi terrorising defences and scoring for fun to help their clubs advance in all competitions, with 88 goals between them up until 16th April. The next 17 days would shape the destination of La Liga, the Copa Del Rey, the Champions League, and the Ballon d’Or.
Game 1 was fairly indecisive in deciding the winner of the Ballon d’Or, as both candidates scored from the spot in a 1-1 draw, but the scoreline virtually ruled Real out of the running for the league, as they continued to trail by 8 points.
Game 2 was where the destination of the award was decided. The Champions League Semi-Final First leg is a game remembered more for the negative approach of the players rather than the skill, it was Messi who broke the deadlock late on. If a goal ever won a player the Ballon d’Or, it was his second goal of the game. Messi slalomed his way through 5Madriddefenders before sliding the ball past Iker Casillas.
Ronaldo’s reply was to score the winning goal in Game 3, the Copa Del Rey final, as he rose above his marker to head home in the 103rd minute. There was no further reply in Game 4, the Champions League Semi-Final second leg. The game ended 1-1, meaning Messi and co advanced to the final, with an aggregate score of 3-1, and would face Manchester United at Wembley.
Here, Messi decisively putBarcelona2-1 in front from 30 yards to cap off a wonderful performance and end all of Ronaldo’s hopes of winning his second award to become the only player other than Michel Platini to win the award three times in a row.
This season, it was again at the same point where the Ballon d’Or has possibly been decided. In the Champions League, Messi’sBarcelonawere drawn with a team he has never scored against inChelsea, while Ronaldo and Real Madrid were facing the hosts of the final, Bayern Munich. The first leg of the ties proved inconclusive, with both teams losing by one goal and both players not hitting their stride. It was the 2 games following where the award has potentially already been won and lost.
Jammed in the middle of the first and second legs was the sixth El Clasico of the season, to be played at theCampNou.Madrid’s ten point lead had been reduced to four, and could have down to one by the end of the game. But, while Messi struggled to make a meaningful impact, Ronaldo did the exact opposite. Almost immediately after Alexis Sanchez equalised, Ronaldo was fed through by Mesut Ozil, and he scored his first ever league goal at the Camp Nou, which turned out to be the winning goal, and the final nail in the coffin of Barcelona’s title hopes.
Days later, Messi struggled against 10-man Chelsea, missing a penalty as they were knocked out. Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored two crucial goals, but a missed penalty in the shootout meant Bayern Munich advanced. In spite of this, Ronaldo shone brighter than his rival.
It has been the 2011-12 season where Ronaldo has finally begun defying his critics, and the labels such as “big-game bottler” have truly been shirked. At the time of writing, Ronaldo has an extraordinary 57 goals for the season, and has scored in 6 of the last 10 El Clasico’s. He has already surpassed his own record of La Liga goals in a season to help Real Madrid put a halt to Barcelona, while his 10 goals inEuropealmost helped Real get to their first Champions League Final in a decade.
In La Liga alone, he has opened the scoring in 9 games. 16 of his goals have ended up being decisive in picking up the victory, including the recent winner at theCampNou, and a hat-trick against city rivals Atletico, which amounts to more than half of the points Real Madrid have won thus far.
With his aptitude for big games ever improving, he could, scarily, improve in the future, and, pertinently, cementing his place amongst the all time greats.
Make no mistake about it, 2012 is Ronaldo’s year.
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