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The Real Madrid forward claimed the prestigious prize for the fourth time on Monday, an unprecedented achievement for a footballer from the "old continent"


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Another Ballon d'Or for Cristiano Ronaldo. When the Portuguese finished second to Lionel Messi in the FIFA gala for the Golden Ball in January, many speculated that he may never make the final three again. But instead, by winning the individual award for a fourth time, he has achieved what no European player has done before him.

CARTOON: Ballon d'Four - Ronaldo wins it again

This year, the Ballon d'Or cut ties with FIFA and was handed out by France Football, just as it was when Ronaldo first won it in 2008 as a Manchester United player. Cristiano has now won two of each version and four in total, a number second only to Messi, a five-time winnner of the prestigious prize.

It comes in a year in which the Real Madrid forward won the Champions League for the third time in his career with his club and also Euro 2016 with Portugal. This fourth Ballon d'Or sees him surpass three-time winners Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten while moving further clear of Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who all claimed the award twice.

So can Ronaldo now be considered the greatest European player of all time?

Cruyff won the Ballon d'Or three times and was runner-up once. A hugely influential forward whose genius helped Ajax to three consecutive European Cups, he also featured prominently in the Netherlands side that reached the World Cup final in 1974 and scored an impressive 33 goals in just 48 appearances for his national team. Even though the Dutchman, who passed away this year, did not hit the same spectacular heights after his fantastic first season with Barcelona, he hit 369 goals in 661 games in his club career and is considered by many to be the greatest European player ever.

As well as winning the Ballon d'Or three times, Platini finished second twice. The former France great led his national side to two World Cup semi-finals in 1982 and 1986, as well as the Euro '84 trophy, hitting 41 goals in his 72 games for Les Bleus. He also won the European Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup among a number of titles with Juventus, scoring 312 career goals at club level.

Cruyff, Platini and the full list of Ballon d’Or winners

Van Basten saw his career cut short by injury and played his final game for AC Milan at the age of 28. Neverthless, he hit an impressive 277 goals in 373 games for Ajax and the Rossoneri, many of which were spectacular, and will forever be remembered for his stunning volley in the final of Euro '88 which gave Netherlands their first (and only) international trophy. The Dutch striker also won a host of trophies in a successful career, including back-to-back European Cups with Milan in 1989 and 1990.

But behind those three are a number of other legends from European football, including Beckenbauer who is always mentioned among the game's greats. He won the Ballon d'Or twice, finished as runner-up two times and also came third once in an impressive career which saw him win three European Cups amid numerous titles for Bayern Munich, as well as a European Championship in 1972 and the 1974 World Cup with West Germany.

The list of former winners also includes such stars as Roberto Baggio, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Eusebio, Luis Figo, Ruud Gullit, Gerd Muller, Gianni Rivera, Hristo Stoichkov and Zinedine Zidane - all of whom won the Ballon d'or once. Arguably, some of those deserved it on more than one occasion. In the meantime, modern-day greats like Raul, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Francesco Totti have never claimed the individual prize.

It is worth remembering that until 1995, the award was reserved for European players only. That is why greats such as Pele and Diego Maradona never lifted the Golden Ball, with Real Madrid's Argentine legend and two-time winner Alfredo Di Stefano the exception after he adopted Spanish nationality.

Pogba misses out on Ballon d'Or top 10

Since the rule change, non-Europeans like Liberian George Weah and Brazilians Ronaldo (twice), Ronadinho and Kaka have all won it - along with five-time winner Messi.

The fact that Ronaldo (who has 499 goals in his club career) has had to compete in the same era with Messi, a player considered by many to be the greatest ever, while former winners did not even come up against footballers from outside Europe, makes his achievement all the more impressive.

Does it mean that Cristiano is the greatest player Europe has ever produced? That is a matter of opinion and many who watched the likes of Cruyff, Platini, Bekenbauer and Zidane will no doubt disagree, but if the Ballon d'Or is to be used as a barometer, the Madeiran is out on his own in this continent at least.

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