Monday, February 24, 2014

However you measure it Ronaldo is amazing

However you measure it Ronaldo is amazing.
Cristiano Ronaldo's capture of the FIFA Ballon D'Or completed a remarkable return to the top five years after he last won the award.

The Portuguese wing wonder beat Lionel Messi by 1,365 votes to 1,205.

Football history will look back on this as the Spanish golden age, but the brightest stars in this Iberian heaven have been an Argentinian and a Portuguese.

These two superstars have monopolised awards for the past few seasons, which made Franck Ribéry’s third place finish with 1,127 votes all the more impressive.

Ribéry's role in helping Bayern Munich to a clean sweep of domestic and international trophies in 2013 was perhaps the greatest all-round contribution by a footballer last year.

He took defeat badly, citing his faultless trophy haul versus Ronaldo's empty cabinet as proof of an injustice, a cry echoed by UEFA President and fellow countryman Michel Platini, who decried the increasing American style reliance on statistics instead of success for measuring the game.

As proud Frenchmen, the pair felt some ownership, because the Ballon D'Or was once run solely by France Football magazine. Since merging with FIFA's World Player of the Year four years ago, it has got more personality dominated.

Cristiano Ronaldo.
The key difference is that the new award counts votes from national team coaches and captains. Had journalists alone decided the vote as before, Ribéry would have been crowned the world player of the year - perhaps proof that those outside the game view things on the field with cooler heads and more critical eyes.

Unlike FIFA's World Cup hosting selections, whose inner workings are shrouded in secrecy, the Ballon D'Or, because of its origins in journalism as opposed to management, is fully open to inspection. This provides some curious insights into the global soccer family.

Not everyone is entranced by the Barcelona-Real Madrid hegemony. Bahrain coach Anthony Hudson for instance was one of many who ignored the top three: He chose Ribéry’s teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger as the world player of the season, Andrea Pirlo as next best and Mesut Özil in third.

Belgium boss Marc Wilmots by contrast plumped for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Eden Hazard. China coach Bo Fu went for PSG's Thiago Silva while Ivorian journalist Adam Khalil picked fellow countryman Yaya Touré as the winner.

Many votes stayed in-house: Colombia coach Jose Pekerman and skipper Mario Yepes both picked cafetero striker Falcao as the player of the season, Welsh manager Chris Coleman and captain Ashley Williams both voted for Gareth Bale, while Italian CT Cesare Prandelli and capitano Gianluigi Buffon gave Pirlo the nod.

Incidentally neither Messi nor Ronaldo voted for each other, which seemed rather unchivalrous. The Argentinian played his cards close to the Camp Nou, selecting colleagues Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar as the world's top three; Ronaldo picked Falcao followed by Real pals Bale and Özil.

Once again, attackers trumped defenders and goalkeepers in the voting.

In fact, since the award was inaugurated in 1956 only two defenders have bagged the prize - Franz Beckenbauer in 1972 and '76 and Fabio Cannavaro in Italy's World Cup wining year of 2006.

For all his years of sterling service, Paolo Maldini never got a look-in, and nor did exceptional defenders like Franco Baresi, Frank De Boer, Philipp Lahm, Matthias Sammer or Lilian Thuram.

Russian custodian Lev Yashin remains the only goalkeeper to have won the award, in 1963. Dino Zoff came second ten years later and Oliver Kahn third in 2001 and 2002, yet the likes of Gordon Banks, Sepp Maier, Gianluigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel & Petr Cech, genuine masters of the art of stopping goals, have played second fiddle in prizegiving to those who create and score them.

FIFA's only criteria for the Ballon D’Or were performances on the field of play and behaviour on and off the pitch - nothing more specific.

So what does make a great footballer? And is it right to value attackers over defenders when winning sides must always be built on solid defences?

Ask anyone to name the game's greatest players and they will invariably lean towards midfielders and strikers and select a best eleven stuffed with individual brilliance yet short on defensive destroyers. The men at the back have never been as valued as attackers but their repertoire has extended massively in recent years. Great defenders are no longer mere neutralisers but must also bring the ball out, spray accurate passes and join or launch attacks.

Modern full-backs spend so much time up the wing they are often better at going forward than tracking back. Chelsea's David Luiz and Ashley Cole for example are a world away from their equivalents half a century ago.

Yet childhood, the factory of football fervour, favours attacking. Creative midfielders who can dazzle with a trick or two garner more plaudits and win far more fans than a player who stifles others' imaginations. In this context, Ronaldo is surely a deserving winner for 2013, in which he averaged 1.17 goals per game.

Platini and Ribéry have a valid gripe, but equally the artist known as CR7 has been extra-terrestrial for club and country this past season. Off-field he is often perceived as arrogant, a playboy or just plain gruff, but we should concentrate on his football.

He netted 55 goals for Real in 2012-'13, a humungous haul that has continued into this season (he is the top scorer in La Liga thus far with 22 goals by the end of January), while his heroic rescuing of Portugal from World Cup 2014 elimination with an swashbuckling hat-trick in Stockholm was the stuff of greatness. Whilst he has toiled somewhat in the shade of the Messi-Barça bandwagon for the past few seasons, it is worth remembering he has bagged 400 goals, scored 40 in consecutive seasons and netted against every other La Liga team in a single campaign, all while not playing as a pure striker.

Fifth in Real's pantheon of goleadores, he is one goal short of becoming Portugal's all-time leading scorer, although in goals per game he still lags behind the great Eusebio.

Ronaldo does have all the commonly-held attributes of a great player in spades. He always aims to be a protagonist and never hides. As well as being as fast as lightning with Brazilian-esque feet, he is physically tough and fires his engines for 90 minutes. His pace, whether over five or fifty yards, is probably the key to his greatness, but as many a winger has proved, pace alone is not enough.

His gift of electrifying speed and exquisite technique make him the perfect counter-attacker. Whether it was dispatching Barcelona in the Copa del Rey or dumping Sweden on the quayside in the World Cup qualifying playoff, it is on the break where Ronaldo truly shines.

Give him an inch and a yard of grass as the old English saying goes, and he will run riot and decimate the best defence. His pace alone means he is usually first to a far-post cross for a tap-in.

Using him on the counter has been Real's key to breaking the Barcelona domination of recent years and even the mighty blaugrana have no answer to his threat. He is predominantly right-footed, but plays on the left where he can cut inside onto his favoured foot and unbalance the right-back.

His 29 year-old physique is incredibly honed, a lean machine maintained in optimum condition. When he pulls off his jersey, even the most red-blooded heterosexuals must doff their cap at the sight of a real-life Action Man beneath it.

Watching him in play, one is struck by how upright his torso remains, a rigid spectator to the fireworks display from his legs and feet below. Sprinting never seems to be an effort for him and he possesses a fuel injection which entrances markers for that crucial split-second.

For markers, Ronaldo's body is hard to read, since his arms and upper body hardly change pace while his legs accelerate. Without any swerving or lurching, he whistles past defenders thanks to quick feet and rapid changes of pace. No shimmies, just a mesmerising shuffle of his calves and Cristiano Roadrunner is off and away.

On the deck he plays with his toes more than most dribblers, flicks and chips with little backlift, nutmegs many a hapless full back and is fond of a back heel or two. Marking him is the stuff of nightmares for mortals. Do you drop off and let him beat you in a foot race or stay tight and find yourself on the floor as he skips past you in a heartbeat?

Unlike Messi, Ronaldo is a force in the air, using his speed and height of 6"1" / 1m 86cm to meet many a cross with a diagonal header on target.

The final weapon in his arsenal is his shooting; he happily lets rip from outside the box and has perfected the folha seca, the dipping free-kick hit with the laces. When he takes penalties he invariably roofs them, bagging 23 out of 24 over the past two years.

His brain has the impulsive flashes required for tricky wingers, whose flitting feints and jerks leave slow-witted defenders trailing in their wake. He has the will to win at all costs, which sometimes spills over into yellow and red cards.

When he famously winked after his club colleague Wayne Rooney was sent off at the 2006 World Cup, he showed he is not averse to the on-field craftiness usually associated with Diego Maradona or Italian footballers.

Perhaps above all, despite matching Messi in assists and using the majority of his touches to pass to his teammates, Ronaldo is in his element attacking as an individual, which brings his play closest to the fan's inner child.

Not for him the Borg collective of the blaugrana when he can do it by himself and in an era where defence mostly dominates, how refreshing it is to have a player whose bread and butter is taking on defenders and beating them.

Given that all players, supporters and writers are kids at heart when it comes to football, there could be no worthier winner.

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