In December, Cristiano Ronaldo – the greatest Portuguese player of all time – collected his fifth Ballon d’Or in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, equaling the record set by his long-time rival Lionel Messi. Aged 32, the story of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2016-17 season is nothing short of miraculous.
The 2016-2017 season proved to be one of yet more milestones for Cristiano Ronaldo and was almost certainly his finest yet. Not only did he guide Real Madrid to an incredible treble by winning titles in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup, he also led Portugal to victory in the European Championships.
Yet it was a year that began far more subdued. In fact, Ronaldo’s slow start had many questioning if this was the beginning of the end, an inevitable fact that all professional players must face eventually. After all, nobody is “Benjamin Button,” the fictional character in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel who “was born old but will die young,” as Zlatan Ibrahimovic once famously said of himself. In the meantime, Lionel Messi was displaying irresistible form for Barcelona, leading to Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli claiming his team could have beaten Barca in their La Liga clash but couldn’t defeat the Argentinian magician.
“Comparing anyone else to Messi is liking comparing a really good cop to Batman,” he said.
In reality though, Ronaldo really was Real Madrid’s Batman. Discussions about Ronaldo’s age were completely quashed in his final four, and decisive, season-defining games. Ronaldo scored the goal at Malaga that won the title for Real before his two goals in the final against Juventus saw the club lift the European Champions League trophy for the second year in a row.
By the end of the year Ronaldo had scored 42 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid. And although that tally was fewer than in recent seasons, this time around he scored them when it mattered most. It is true Ronaldo is getting older, but he is also evolving as a player, having developed great maturity and football intelligence along the way. He has even accepted squad rotations. These days his goals are memorable for their significance rather than the sheer quantity of them.
Ironically, it appears Ronaldo is following a similar trend in 2017-2018. He began by scoring just two goals in his first 10 league appearances but on the eve of claiming his fifth Ballon d’Or broke yet another record – becoming the first player to have ever scored a goal in all six games of the Champions League group stage.
Now, with he and Messi tied at five Ballon d’Or’s apiece, the question is who will be the first man to reach six? It is rare that the football world has the privilege of watching one player of such dominance, let alone two. But the fact remains that these two have combined to win the award for the greatest player on the planet for the past 10 years. And one of them has finished second in each of the past 11!
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte once claimed that players like Messi and Ronaldo possess “sacred fire.”
“When you have it inside you, you have the will to win every game and to score goals. Every one of us, we have this sacred fire and we have to find the right solution to improve it. At this level you must have this type of situation. Then the flame can be big or little. When you have an inferno, it means you are like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar.”
With the “inferno” raging inside him, it’s no wonder that Ronaldo revealed at this year’s ceremony that his goal is to win not just six, but seven Ballon d’Or awards before he retires. At this rate, who would doubt him?