Millennium Post

Viva CR7

It has taken Cristiano Ronaldo a long time to be back on top of the world. Since winning the Ballon d’Or for the first time after leading Manchester United to Champions League glory in 2008, he has been relegated into second place in three of the last four years as Barcelona rival Lionel Messi won the award for an unprecedented four consecutive times.

This time, however, he was finally crowned World Player of the Year for a second time after he beat Messi and Bayern Munich’s treble-winning playmaker Franck Ribery to football’s highest individual award. It’s a fact that despite his remarkable goalscoring record, Ronaldo wasn’t always greeted with the hero’s worship he thought he deserved from the club’s fans. Yet, driven by fear that he could have been running down his contract with the intention of leaving Madrid, 2013 marked a turning point in the adulation Ronaldo now receives every time he steps foot inside the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ronaldo finally quashed any speculation surrounding his future by extending his contract with Madrid until 2018 in September in a deal that saw him become the world’s best paid player. At the begining of this season, Ronaldo displayed amazing form, scoring 15 times in eight matches. Most importantly, in that run Ronaldo ensured Portugal wouldn’t miss out on this year’s World Cup in Brazil by scoring all four of his country’s goals in their 4-2 aggregate playoff win over Sweden. The impact in particular of his stunning hat-trick in the second-half of the second-leg in Stockholm was such that FIFA conveniently decided to extend the voting period for Ballon d’Or by two weeks to allow those who already cast their votes change them.

Ronaldo’s individual brilliance cannot be overlooked. His 66 goals in 56 games for club and country was more than Messi and Ribery’s combined total of 65. Ronaldo also led the way in the most demanding environment of all, the Champions League, finishing as last season’s top scorer and becoming the first man to ever score nine times in just five group games this season. Moreover, at both club and international level he has managed to revise the previously popular image of him as a petulant and selfish player. Many believe in the five seasons since winning the FIFA World Player of the Year award, Ronaldo is much better than he was at 23. The statistic that naturally stands out for 2013 is his 69 goals in 59 matches for Real Madrid and Portugal, when it seemed his 63 in 2012 would take some matching.

It is not just the quantity, but the quality and timely nature of those goals. In 2013, Ronaldo equalled Pauleta’s record as the all-time top goalscorer for Portugal with 47 goals in 109 appearances, and it is telling that since he emerged ahead of EURO 2004, his country have never failed to qualify for a major tournament and reached four semifinals.

But it is not just for his country that he has broken records. Last April, Ronaldo became the first player in the history of Real Madrid to score 30 or more goals in three consecutive seasons. In order to understand the magnitude of this feat, it should be noted that strikers such as Raúl González, Ronaldo Nazario, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Hugo Sánchez and Alfredo Di Stéfano were unable to match that. His club tally is 230 in just 223 matches.

Champions League is perhaps the stage for which Ronaldo reserves his finest performances. His nine goals in the 2013/14 group stage set a new competition record for that stage. Over 2013 he has scored six hat-tricks for Madrid, taking his club tally to 23, having only registered one treble at United. At 28, this is a more mature Ronaldo than the one who won the Ballon d’Or five years ago. He is now a captain and star who takes responsibility and leads by example. A maturation process that has finally seen him topple Messi as the world’s best.

-With Agency inputs

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