PARIS: Cristiano Ronaldo has won the revived France Football Ballon d’Or award, as he targets the FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid in Japan this week writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The French magazine, which founded the European Footballer of the Year prize in 1956, is now ‘out on its own’ again after a five-year world player partnership with world federation FIFA.
Ronaldo, hailed already in the long-running World Soccer poll and favourite to win the new FIFA Best Player prize, was a runaway favourite.
He topped the ballot of 173 international journalists ahead of Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann.
The 31-year-old Portugal and Real Madrid foward played a crucial role in his club’s victory over neighbours Atletico in May in the Champions League final when he converted the decisive penalty and then led his country to become European champions for the first time.
Ronaldo, who has so far scored 48 goals in 52 games for club and country during the calendar year, is currently away in Japan as Real Madrid prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup. They face America of Mexico in the semi-finals, seeking to extend their club record unbeaten run of 35 games in all competitions.
He said: “It is a great honour to receive my fourth Golden Ball. The emotion is like the first one, it is the dream come true again. I never thought in my mind to win four times the Golden Ball, so I am so pleased and so happy.
“I have the opportunity to thank all of my team-mates, the national team, Real Madrid, all of the people and players who helped me to win this individual award. As you can imagine I feel so proud and happy to receive this amazing and beautiful ball.”
Ronaldo, who collected his first Ballon d’Or during his time at Manchester United in 2008, added: “It is important for me, I will try my best, like I do every year. It is a new challenge.
“I love to play football, so I will try my best to win for Real Madrid first, because it is my team, for the national team to win again if it is possible, we know that it is very, very difficult, and to win it (Ballon d’Or) again next year.
“I will try my best, work hard as always and I will enjoy this moment because it is not easy to win this.”
Runner-up Messi, the 29-year-old Argentina playmaker, helped guide Barcelona to another domestic league and cup double in 2015-16, scoring 41 goals in all competitions.
Griezmann finished as top scorer at Euro 2016, where Les Bleus were defeated by Portugal in the final, and he also helped take Atletico to the Champions League final.
Brazil forward Neymar was named fifth in the poll behind his Barcelona team-mate and Uruguay international Luis Suarez.
Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale, who helped drive Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, was sixth.