Year-end special: Cristiano Ronaldo assumes control

Ronaldo's incredible performances in 2013 has seen him take charge ahead of his fellow Ballon d'Or contenders. Goal's Brendon Netto discusses..
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | Spain
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On January 7 2013, Lionel Messi was presented with the prestigious Ballon d’Or award an unprecedented fourth consecutive year. Beside him, stood a dejected Cristiano Ronaldo who set his own record of finishing second for the fourth time in his career, thrice to the Argentine.

One sensed an air of helplessness about Ronaldo’s situation for his biggest drawback was simply being part of the same generation as Messi. The Portuguese won the La Liga and amassed a remarkable tally of 63 goals for club and country in 2012 but to his despair, Messi outshone every other footballer, past and present, by scoring a phenomenal 91 goals.

In another era, Ronaldo could have ruled with three or four Ballon d’Or titles to his name but time and again he’s been denied the recognition he deserves by the prodigal Barcelona attacker. However, just when you thought the prolific winger was incapable of establishing himself as the best in the world again so long as Messi continued to play, he outdid himself this year.

Messi has dominated over the past four years

Two days after Messi posed with the Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Celta Vigo. He bagged another hat-trick against Getafe on January 27 and then one more against Sevilla two weeks later. Clearly meaning business, he plundered goals like a man possessed and was even on the score sheet when he played his former side Manchester United for the first time since his departure.

He was terrific over both legs in the Champions League encounter and scored the equalizer in the first while also netting the winner in the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. Sandwiched between those games was the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final against Barcelona. Ronaldo scored twice at the Camp Nou to eliminate Messi and Co. and take Madrid to the final.

‘Cristiano Ronaldo was the most gifted player I managed. He surpassed all the other great ones I coached at United. And I had many.’

- Sir Alex Ferguson

The Portuguese star hasn’t won any silverware in 2013 but his talismanic displays for club and country have made him one of the most impressive performers around. As captain of Portugal, he almost single-handedly dragged them into the 2014 World Cup, scoring ten times in nine appearances for the national side in this calendar year.

"It's difficult, Messi was on top until now but in the last year, maybe Ronaldo is in front, he is very athletic." - Arsene Wenger

Ronaldo netted his first hat-trick for the national team in a crucial World Cup qualification match against
Northern Ireland in August. However, the game that epitomized Ronaldo’s stunning form this year and justified his tag as a ‘talisman’ was the second leg of the play-off encounter versus a Sweden side lead by Zlatan Ibrahimovic who enjoyed an exceptional year as well.

After scoring the solitary goal in the first leg, Ronaldo bagged a sensational hat-trick to win the second leg 2-3 in a scintillating performance that could have seen the Seleccao skipper net five or six. The quality of each finish was of the highest order while he seemed determined to get his side over the finish line even when Ibrahimovic scored a brace to give Sweden a chance in front of their supporters.

Just as the tide seemed to change in favour of the hosts, Ronaldo scored twice in three minutes to put the tie beyond their reach. The build-up to the fixture between the two sides centered around the battle between Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic and while the Swede was impressive as well, the Portuguese was the undisputable winner of that particular duel.



Ronaldo won the battle with Ibrahimovic

Ronaldo has proved that he can be the main man at a club with several other star players while also assuming responsibility on the international stage where Portugal aren’t as blessed with gifted individuals at the moment in comparison to some of the top nations.

For years Ronaldo has mesmerized the world of football with his quick feet and trickery but wasn’t content on merely being a show pony. He transformed himself into a ruthless, uncompromising goal scoring machine and this past year has seen him perform in overdrive, knocking over several records along the way.

Ronaldo scored 69 goals and made 18 assists for club and country in 2013 in 60 games, his most productive year yet. He notched a remarkable eight hat-tricks in the process and is now the joint all-time top scorer for Portugal alongside Pauleta with 47 strikes. He also became the nation’s youngest player to make 100 appearances on the international stage.

Stats of 2013 Ballon d'Or finalists
Player Apps
Goals Assists Goal Ratio
Assist Ratio Goal/Assist Ratio
Cristiano Ronaldo 60  69 17 1.15
0.28 1.43
FC Barcelona Lionel Messi 46 45 18 0.98 0.39 1.37
   Franck Ribery 55 23 28 0.41 0.51 0.93

He has now scored 228 goals in 220 appearances for Real Madrid, becoming the fastest player to score 200 goals for the club. He also became the first Madrid player to score on six consecutive visits to the Camp Nou.

Meanwhile, he has scored 14 times in the Champions League this year, beating Messi’s mark of 13 which was set last year. He also beat the record of eight goals in the group stages of the competition that was held by Hernan Crespo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Filippo Inzaghi by scoring nine.

Will he finally get his hands on it again?

Putting aside all the records and incredible statistics, Ronaldo has simply played his very best over the last 12 months and therefore deserves recognition despite the absence of a trophy. It’s been a year that’s seen him mature into a player willing to take up the mantle in the toughest situations and lead the way and that’s arguably been the most impressive aspect of his performances in 2013.

"I am not a perfectionist, but I like to feel that things are done well. More important than that, I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also to feel satisfied with myself."

- Cristiano Ronaldo

If ever there was a case for Messi to be denied a Ballon d’Or title, Ronaldo has made it this time around. It’s a sad reality that he will never escape comparisons with the Argentine but for this year at least, the judgments must surely rule in his favour.

What do you make of Ronaldo's performances in 2013? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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