Ronaldo is a lock for the Ballon d'Or, will it be his last?

By Samuel Charles

Cristiano Ronaldo was one of 30 nominees for the 2016 Ballon d'Or announced by France Football on Monday, and it would be shocking if anyone else claimed this year's prize, not after Ronaldo won the Champions League with Real Madrid and Euro 2016 with Portugal.

While those trophies will carry him, Ronaldo had a fairly ordinary year when it comes to his individual production, by his or Leo Messi's standards, which are the only standards these two historically great players should really be judged on.

I wouldn't, but for the first time since Ronaldo arrived in Madrid one could have argued that neither Ronaldo or Messi was the best player on their own team last season.

Luis Suarez scored almost every time he touched the ball for Barcelona, and Gareth Bale, when healthy, played at a higher level than Ronaldo for Real, at least in La Liga.

Again, I think that’s a stretch, but just the fact you can’t dismiss such talk suggests the monopoly on this award --- held by the odd couple that is Leo and Cristiano --- will end soon.

Ronaldo’s decline? Four players in La Liga posted a higher rating during Spain's last domestic season than Ronaldo (as judged by WhoScored).

Top 5 ratings in La Liga: Leo Messi 8.46, Neymar 8.43, Gareth Bale 8.12, Luis Suarez 8.01 and Cristiano Ronaldo 7.99

This was the first time during his career at Madrid that Ronaldo ever posted a WhoScored rating below 8.15.

Ronaldo had 35 goals and 11 assists to Bale's 19 goals and 10 assists, but Bale only played 1,741 minutes played in La Liga, compared to Ronaldo's 3,185. While Ronaldo deserves high praise for keeping his body in immaculate physical condition, Bale was on pace to produce 35 goals and 18 assists during the same minutes played as Ronaldo.

Real Madrid did not win La Liga last season, and they were eliminated from the Copa Del Rey for using an ineligible player, while Ronaldo is on pace for his fewest calendar year goals since 2010.

Ronaldo was not among of Madrid's three highest rated players in the Champions League Final (Bale, Sergio Ramos and Casemiro), and three of Atletico Madrid’s players also had higher ratings in the UCL final.

Ronaldo celebrated his penalty kick that won Real the UCL title as you might expect, but the game’s biggest moment came just before, when Atleti’s Juan Fran missed his, giving Ronaldo an opportunity to take credit (the type of opportunity Ronaldo doesn’t miss).

Essentially Ronaldo is going to win the Ballon d’Or for his teams winning the two most prestigious competitions available to them, but both Madrid and Portugal had remarkably easy knockout runs to both those finals.

In the Champions League round of 16 Madrid drew Roma, third in Serie A last season, before scraping past the Bundesliga's eighth-place team in the quarterfinal, Wolfsburg, then Real beat Manchester City, which tied for fourth in the Premier League, by virtue of scoring one own goal over two legs.

Of course, beating Atletico Madrid, third in Spain, has recently proven a worthy challenge for anyone.

But consider Barcelona the year before, when its 2015 UCL title required beating all four clubs that won the top leagues outside Spain that season (Chelsea, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus).

Ronaldo himself only had three extraordinary games in either competition, two at Euro 2016, and just one in the Champions League knockout stages.

Ronaldo’s UCL moment came during the quarterfinals, with Madrid having lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg, Cristiano scored a hat trick at the Bernabeu, carrying Real into the semifinals.

Portugal's run to the Euro 2016 Final involved finishing third in one of the weakest groups (Portugal wouldn’t even have advanced to the knockout rounds under any previous Euro formats), not winning a single game in regulation until the semifinals, and avoiding all favorites until facing France in the final, when Portugal won while playing the majority of the game without Ronaldo.

Portugal played seven games at Euro 2016, Ronaldo only scored, or proved dominant, in two of them. His tour de force of two goals and an assist against Hungary in the group stage, and in the semifinals, when he had an assist and a signature headed goal against Wales.

He shoots, he scores. Antoine Griezmann led Euro 2016 with six goals, Ronaldo was one of six other players who finished with three goals. Ronaldo's three goals came on 46 shot attempts (34 missed the target), and no other player at Euro 2016 had more than 26 shot attempts. Ronaldo's Portugal teammate Nani also scored three goals at Euro 2016, on just 21 shots.

Ronaldo was also the runaway leader in shots during last season's Champions League, taking 94 shot attempts, twice as many as any other player (Robert Lewandowski was second with 47). Ronaldo led the UCL with 16 goals, but 11 came against Malmo and Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage, during 2015.

Ronaldo led La Liga with 228 shots last season while scoring 35 goals, taking 74 more shots than Messi, and an incredible 64 percent more shots than Luis Suarez, who led La Liga with 40 goals on 139 shots.

Starting his eighth season in La Liga, Ronaldo’s averaged between 6.3 and 7.4 shots per game during those seasons (his 6.3 last season was actually his lowest). Messi has never averaged more than 5.5 shots per game, with Leo always averaging between 4.5 and 5.5 shots per game in La Liga.

To be fair to Ronaldo, this is also by design. Madrid's style of play encourages a high volume of shots with less possession, while Barcelona passes the ball around, creating fewer shots, of a far higher quality -- and of course, both methods have led to plenty of goals, and trophies.

One of this year’s nominees, who was on the field in the finals of both big competitions that Cristiano’s teams won, has no illusions about this year’s award.

“For the Ballon d'Or, it is all over,” said Griezmann, after losing the Euro 2016 final with France to Portugal. “Ronaldo won the two big competitions this season.”

Appreciating Cristiano. A man whose first words as a newborn in Funchal, Portugal on Feb 5, 1985 just had to be "look at me" (in Portuguese).

When, not if, Ronaldo is announced the winner during January's ceremony in Zurich, it will be his fourth Ballon d'Or.

For those just counting golden balls, and that would certainly appear to include Cristiano, that would give him just one less than Messi's five Ballon d'Ors, and suggest that the two were nearly on equal footing when it comes to soccer greatness -- but anyone suggesting Ronaldo is Messi's equal really doesn't have an appreciation for everything Messi does besides scoring goals.

Messi is in a class by himself, at least when it comes to the 21st century, but even if we all agree upon that, doesn't this make Ronaldo’s Ballon d'Ors even that much more impressive?

It's not easy to feel sorry for Cristiano, but just think how ridiculously good he is, how hard he works on his body and his game (even if he occasionally struggles to spell the word team). He’s one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived, and think how infuriating it must be for so many to constantly remind him that he's no Leo Messi.

Well who is?

Thoughts like that make me wonder if Messi's existence has made Ronaldo more abrasive, more likely to shove his money, supermodels and Ballon d'Ors down in our face.

If there was no Messi, would we have seen a kindler, gentler Ronaldo, would he still be as driven, as good?

I don't know.

I do know this, winning four Ballon d'Ors when your prime overlaps with that of Leo Messi is one of the greatest achievements in sports history.

I know this hasn't been Ronaldo's best individual year, I know he was rarely at his best even while winning the two competitions that make him a lock to win this award, but I think, years from now, it may go down as Cristiano’s greatest year, because of the European Championship he brought home to Funchal, and Portugal.

If this is to be Ronaldo's last Ballon d'Or, the man who has always been accused of prioritizing personal achievement over team success will have earned it during a year when he was merely great, not otherworldly, as his club became champion of Europe and he captained his country to its first major title ever.

He will take credit for all of it (if only to be consistent).

10 comments about "Ronaldo is a lock for the Ballon d'Or, will it be his last?".
  1. Paulo Monteiro , October 26, 2016 at 9:38 p.m.

    Samuel, Samuel, Samuel.
    Long article but missed the crucial.
    Once a defender or mid goes against Messi, they get one maybe two shots and the yellow comes out which leaves him free to do what he does. In Ronaldo's case, he nearly has to be taken out for a yellow. I only have to go as far back as the euro finals. Ronaldo was sidelined, not only for the games, but for much longer after that. If it was Messi, Payet would have seen a yellow, in the least.
    Both have great feet but one has to go through a little more for the outcome.
    Needless to say, I strongly disagree with your opinion.
    Messi is great but Ronaldo is greater.

  2. Samuel Charles replied, October 26, 2016 at 11:57 p.m.

    Well Paulo, you're right about one thing, this article is a bit long. Even if i found some brevity, it's clear you're not to be persuaded as to which player you prefer. I love Cristiano, but it is difficult to celebrate either without comparing. Thanks for reading. ~ Sam -- Messi has taken tons of punishment.

  3. Paul Cox replied, October 27, 2016 at 9:16 a.m.

    The yellows come out for defenders going against Messi because they're fouling him hard enough to deserve yellows.

    If they don't, he kills them, so it's really all they can do.

  4. John Soares, October 27, 2016 at 12:07 a.m.

    Two GREAT players, IF they had come 8 years apart there would have been little IF any competition, with "either". This year it's Ronaldo. The competition is there .... but not at his (their) level.

  5. Matt D, October 27, 2016 at 9:22 a.m.

    Really enjoyed the article, even if it was a bit long. Great job Samuel. The Appreciating Ronaldo section in particular is well thought out and presented. It made me appreciate Ronaldo more (I'm a Messi guy) and consider him in a different light than I had before. Interesting to think about how he would be and be perceived if he wasn't competing against Messi.

  6. Carlos Rocha, October 27, 2016 at 9:40 a.m.

    Messi Messi Messi just give Ronaldo his due credit. On that note Messi is a good player but he does all he does in the place where he grew up (Barcelona). Ronaldo is greater because he is great where ever he goes. That is good my friends. Messi can't even do it with his National team.

  7. beautiful game replied, October 27, 2016 at 4:32 p.m.

    Carlos R., your argument has no merit. CR7 played for one of the best Man U teams ever...and as for the Argentine Nat'L Team, one of the worst ever.

  8. beautiful game, October 27, 2016 at 4:29 p.m.

    Paulo M., your opinion doesn't take into consideration that Messi evades tackles better than CR7. Each has his iconic style on the pitch and each is worthy of the highest praise.

  9. Carlos Rocha, October 28, 2016 at 2:18 p.m.

    Seriously though does Messi really Have all of that help (Neymar/Suarez)? Yet still they can't win the Champions league. I don't disagree that Messi has been great or that he might be greater still, it's just i believe it's time to put your money where your reputation is and start producing on a more consistent basis for country. And why is Cristiano Ronaldo always considered the "bad guy"?

  10. Carlos Rocha, October 28, 2016 at 4:41 p.m.

    Of your constant battering of the great Cristiano Ronaldo was the "David Beckham" we all got "fed" in days past really all that great? You don't seem to chew his (DB)head off for underachieving even. Yet as good as CR has been you still complain.
    I guess you can't be good and satisfy everybody.

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