Ronaldo had been widely seen as a huge favourite for a third personal award, due to his record-breaking 17 goals as Madrid won last season’s Champions League, and 20 goals and eight assists in his first 12 La Liga games early this term.
A poor showing at this year’s World Cup, when his insistence on playing through an injury ultimately backfired as Portugal crashed out in the group stages, was deemed not so important.
Particularly as Ronaldo’s main supposed rival Lionel Messi could not lead Argentina to the trophy.
But last Thursday, Platini upset this consensus by saying his personal preference would be to recognise one of the summer’s World Cup winners. This boosted the candidacies of Germans Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm and especially outstanding goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
The intervention by the Frenchman (who won the prize himself in 1983, 1984 and 1985) was not well received around the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
The retorts were even stronger than 10 days ago, when ex-Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso was criticised for suggesting his current Bayern Munich teammate Neuer could take the award.
Blancos left-back Fabio Coentrao told Portuguese newspaper A Bola that “it would be a real disgrace if Cristiano did not receive this Ballon D’Or”. The usually reticent Coentrao, who gets a lift to training every day from Ronaldo and is also represented by Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, added that it was “shameful” and “ridiculous” for Platini to use his position to “campaign” in this way.
Meanwhile, another Madrid full-back Alvaro Arbeloa spoke to Spanish paper AS. “I do not understand how the Uefa president can comment on a matter like this,” Arbeloa said.
“I’m his teammate, but anybody even a little objective knows Cristiano must win.”
These arguments were further fleshed out on Friday by an official statement on Madrid’s website (in eight different languages) expressing “surprise” at Platini’s comments given “our understanding is that the strictest impartiality should prevail”, before saying that “without any doubt” Ronaldo should win what is an individual not team award. Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti politely limited himself to saying it was not “correct” for high-ranking administrators to comment on the matter.
Nobody seemed to remember (or care) that the voting period, by national team captains and coaches and selected journalists, had already ended on November 21. So in theory anyway Platini’s comments came too late to influence anybody’s decision.
The noisy ‘debate’ recalled similar outrage last year when Fifa president Sepp Blatter mocked CR7’s running style and use of hair products in a speech at Oxford University. Madrid president Florentino Perez then apparently took personal offence and demanded an apology. That swiftly arrived, with self-professed Blancos fan Blatter writing in a public letter that: “I am very sorry that this situation hurt you (Ronaldo) so much.”
A year ago it seemed that, even with four-time winner Messi out of the running due to injury, France and Bayern star Franck Ribery might beat Ronaldo to the award. But after the Blatter controversy, and the extension of the voting period, the Portuguese was an easy winner.
This year’s concerted attack on Platini, which comes in the week Messi became both La Liga’s and the Champions League’s all-time record goalscorer, looks similarly designed to reposition their man as the only realistic candidate for a trophy which brings both individual prestige and hugely lucrative marketing possibilities.
Leaks suggest Ronaldo, Neuer and probably Messi are set to make up the three-man shortlist published by Fifa this afternoon. The ‘debate’ will then continue until the winner is announced on January 12.
Until then expect plenty more hypocritical talk of objectivity and impartiality.