Come 1900 GMT on Monday, what looks to be a poorly kept secret will officially be out — Cristiano Ronaldo will bag his fourth Ballon d’Or as the world’s top footballer. The Real Madrid and Portugal star won the Champions League for the second time in three seasons and third time overall after one title with Manchester United in 2008. He then led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016 — albeit he went off early through injury in the win over France.
As has been the case for almost a decade now, the 31-year-old’s main rival will be Lionel Messi of Barcelona — but the Argentine maestro has had by his own exalted standards a less than stellar year both for club and country with the top prizes eluding him on both fronts.
Ronaldo was spotted midweek in training having dyed his hair gold in advance and for his club coach, there can only be one man for the crown this year. “For me there is no debate. The Ballon will be for him,” Zinedine Zidane said after his talisman’s hat-trick saw off Atletico Madrid last month to underpin their domination in La Liga.
“He showed it last season and he shows it again and again. We expect a lot of him but he stands above everyone.”
Despite such effusive praise, Ronaldo, rested at the weekend ahead of the Club World Cup in Japan, has had some negative headlines — not least pertaining to accusations of tax evasion.
Denying any wrongdoing, he responded by publishing his financial records on Thursday — showing last year he earned a bumper 227.2 million euros ($240 million). “You believe I am worried? He who owes nothing, fears nothing,” Ronaldo told broadcaster RTP.
An international consortium of media organisations has claimed the superstar hid 150 million euros from image rights in the British Virgin Islands.
This year marks the end of six years of joint awards by founders France Football and FIFA, which will revert to bestowing a “Best” accolade of its own on January 9 to both male and female players.
The Ballon d’Or will henceforth be decided by a vote of 173 journalists while national team captains and managers will no longer have a say.
Argentina and Barcelona star Messi landed a record fifth crown last year. A win will lift Ronaldo to within one award of Messi’s record haul of five.
Ronaldo first won the award in 2008 after Premier League and Champions League triumphs with Manchester United. But it was only in 2013 he added his second and he made it a hattrick the following year.
The first Ballon d’Or was won by Stanley Matthews, at the time with Blackpool, who beat Alfredo Di Stefano for the inaugural title in 1956.
Up to 1994 only European players were eligible. The first non-European to win it was the following year, AC Milan’s Liberian star George Weah.
From 2007 it honoured the world’s best player, with FIFA under former president Sepp Blatter entering into a deal with France Football in 2010 to merge the Ballon d’Or with FIFA’s best world player honour.