Ronaldo set to top Messi as world’s best player
Cristiano Ronaldo is heavily favored to end Lionel Messi’s four-year reign as the world’s best player at the FIFA Ballon d’Or gala on Monday.
Ronaldo’s prolific tally of 69 goals for Real Madrid and Portugal seems likely to earn his second FIFA award after finishing runner-up three times in Messi’s dominating era.
Franck Ribery is the third candidate, but the Bayern Munich and France winger needs to score a major upset to add the FIFA accolade to UEFA’s Best Player in Europe award which he collected in August.
A Ronaldo victory is expected because of FIFA’s announcement after the World Cup playoffs in November to extend the voting deadline by two weeks.
That brought his inspiring performance and hat-trick for Portugal in Stockholm, completing a 4-2 aggregate win to eliminate Zlatan Ibrahimvic and Sweden, into the calculations.
“I did my job as I have been doing all season,” Ronaldo said following the match. “Every year I show what I’m about. I’ve scored 40 or 50 goals a season and that’s not enough for everyone.”
Messi, who got 45 goals for Barcelona and Argentina, was unable to further his case after already being ruled out of action for by a third injury in 2013.
FIFA also allowed the voting college — national team captains and coaches, plus one journalist, from each of world football’s 209 member countries — to change preferences and submit new ballot papers. Voters were invited to select their top three choices from a 23-man shortlist provided by FIFA and France Football magazine.
The adjustment prompted speculation FIFA was seeking to counter speculation in Spain and Portugal that the governing body and its president Sepp Blatter was biased toward Messi and Barcelona.
That long-held conspiracy theory was further fueled in October when Blatter was filmed telling a student audience in Oxford, England, that he did indeed prefer Messi’s more modest personality and that Ronaldo was too concerned about his hairstyle.
Blatter’s subsequent mimicry of Ronaldo having a “commander on the field” stature only seemed to stoke the player’s anger and raise the level of his game even higher in the following weeks.
Last week, Ronaldo confirmed he would attend the ceremony in Zurich, ending speculation he would snub FIFA and Blatter in retaliation.
Ronaldo’s all-round excellence, variety and quality of goals have made him a worthy front-runner to add to his 2008 award, which was a reward for helping Manchester United win the Champions League.
His former boss at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson, is also nominated for the coaching award after going into retirement with another Premier League title.
Jupp Heynckes, who also retired last May, is favored to win after leading Bayern to a treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German cup titles. Jurgen Klopp, whose Borussia Dortmund side was beaten by Bayern in the Champions League final, completes the shortlist.
The finalists for the women’s world player award are last year’s winner Abby Wambach of the United States, five-time winner Marta of Brazil and Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the current European player of the year.
Two more Germans who won European titles are competing to be named best coach in women’s football: Silvia Neid is the national team coach and Ralf Kellermann guided Wolfsburg to the Champions League title. Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, who won last year for her Olympic success with the United States, is the third candidate.
Ibrahimovic could get some compensation with the Puskas Award for most beautiful goal in the 12-month qualifying period, for his long-range bicycle kick for Sweden against England in a friendly in November 2012.
Neymar’s goal for Brazil against Japan in the Confederations Cup and Nemanja Matic’s strike for Benfica vs. Porto in the Portuguese league complete the shortlist. Fans can vote online until Monday evening.
A World XI team has been selected by players in a poll organized by the FIFPro group of unions worldwide.
FIFA will also make a presidential award decided by Blatter and a prize rewarding fair play.