DAVID SHONFIELD: Madrid’s finest picks up sympathy vote and Ballon d’Or

Cristiano Ronaldo is a sensitive soul. As Sepp Blatter discovered last October, it is unwise to make fun about how much an actor spends on his appearance.

Perhaps the Fifa president now deserves a word of thanks, for Ronaldo may have benefited from a small sympathy vote, as well as his astonishing scoring record, in carrying off the Ballon D’Or award for 2013.

Perhaps stimulated by Blatter’s little dig at his vanity he launched into a stunning scoring sequence of 15 in eight games, crowned by the four play-off goals that took Portugal to the World Cup finals. To have scored 36 times halfway through the season is astonishing.

Yet to become player of the year you normally have to win a trophy, and a big one, either for club or country. Cristiano has just two since he left Manchester United five seasons ago: the Copa del Rey in 2011 and La Liga the year after.

Not surprisingly, Lionel Messi has reigned supreme, and quite possibly would have done so again had it not been for the fitness and injury problems that have beset him over the past eight months.

Last season he scored 46 in 32 league matches as Barcelona carried off the title. Sixty goals in 50 games confirmed him as probably the greatest goalscorer of all time, although the death of Eusebio last week reminded us that there are a few other candidates for that title.

As yet, neither Messi nor Ronaldo have anything like Eusebio’s iconic status in the game, or even their own countries. But they can both lay claim to a unique competition for the title of world’s top player. There has never been such a prolonged contest, even back in the days when Eusebio was competing with Bobby Charlton and George Best for European player of the year, or when Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer went head-to-head in the 1970s.

In most other eras Cristiano would have won a triple crown by now, like Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten. Little Leo — the “good boy” as Blatter called him — has simply been too good.

But then Franck Ribery, who you could call the bad boy, might well have been the winner in most years. His injury in extra-time in the 2012 Champions League final possibly cost Bayern Munich the trophy in their own stadium. The way he and his team recovered from that disappointment last May, and thus become the first German club to win the treble, deserves recognition.

Perhaps Ribery does not quite have the individual qualities, or the glamour, of his rivals.

Extending the voting period by a fortnight was a novel way of injecting further controversy after Blatter’s faux pas livened up the contest.

A shame really that his aside about Ronaldo’s hairdressing expenses distracted attention from his comment that “he is a commander on the field of play... and it’s good to have such commanders”.

It was a good assessment. Ronaldo has played a phenomenal role in keeping Real Madrid in contention with a rampant Barcelona over the past five years and he has led by example, even if some of the personal claptrap and the giant posters in the streets of Madrid are off-putting.

Messi, no doubt, will be back in the contest sooner rather than later. He has nothing to prove — except for his country. Ronaldo too, following those four goals against Sweden, has to make a mark at an international tournament.

Messi’s task is the easier one: Argentina have to be among the favourites in Brazil, with Sergio Aguero and a revived Carlos Tevez lining up alongside him.

Meanwhile lesser mortals — goalkeepers, defenders, midfield masters — will continue to wonder what they have to do to be properly recognised. In the entire history of these awards, going right back to Stanley Matthews in 1956, Lev Yashin is the solitary goalkeeper to become European or world player of the year. Dino Zoff once came second. The only others to break the forward/striker stranglehold have all been Germans — Beckenbauer, Matthias Sammer and Lothar Matthaus — and the last time it happened was 1996.

Don’t expect that pattern to change any time soon.


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