Cristiano Ronaldo again, for the last few weeks it’s been hard to turn around without bumping into him, burnished and gleaming, immaculately tuxedoed, proudly fondling his latest gong.
Well, here’s another one. As 2016 draws to a close with Cristiano Ronaldo overtaking the reigning champ Lionel Messi to take the headline spot for the second time.
The No1 ranking reflects a year that saw Ronaldo collect winner’s medals from the Champions League and Euro 2016, while finishing as top scorer in the former and “Silver Boot laureate” – a second-placed prize for goals and assists combined – in the latter.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 52 times in the calendar year. He was the headline player in two contrasting European champion teams: one steely underdogs; the other preening overdogs. Throughout he performed with undying efficiency in his favoured attacking areas, a marvel of the sporting age who turns 32 in two months’ time but remains an acme of preening, 12-packed athletic perfection.
All awards are, of course, a matter of opinion. This year votes were drawn from an expanded panel of 124 judges based in 45 countries, from a diverse portfolio of eminent former professionals – including Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo and Faustino Asprilla – to a selection of football broadcasters and journalists from all across the globe. At the end of which Cristiano Ronaldo beat Messi to top spot by a nose on the overall scoring system, with Antoine Griezmann a way back in third.
As ever polls like this raise questions about the role of the individual in what remains, for all the most energetic efforts of the marketeers, a team sport. The enduring beauty of football lies in the density of its patterns, the fine-point push and pull of team-play, the chemistry of tactics and systems.
Still though the eye is drawn to the headline acts. Predictably enough the top 11 are all attackers, with Luka Modric the first midfielder to appear at No12, and Diego Godín and Sergio Ramos the top ranked defenders at 24 and 25 respectively. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe of Portugal and Real Madrid was also a major part of those Champions League and Euro-winning teams. Pepe was also in Uefa’s Euro 2016 team of the tournament. But here he slots in at No30 in our poll, just behind Mesut Özil.
For all that, there is a lot to be said for celebrating the inspiring effects of extreme individualism. Ronaldo managed to help win the Euros despite appearing at times to be having a very public nightmare of scuffed chances and endless close-up TV grimaces; and despite having a game-ending knee injury early in the final.
For all his amusing egotistical quirks, this was a stirring, exemplary, relentlessly dogged pursuit of collective victory.
Just as impressive is the basic fact of finishing ahead of Messi, who remains not just the more imaginative and creative of the two, but arguably the greatest individual footballer of all time. Messi scored 59 goals in 61 games this year and did strange, stirring supernatural things with the ball on a regular basis. This is the guy who came second. Cristiano, hats off.