Stephanie Roche denied by galáctico James as Ronaldo reigns supreme again
Real Madrid superstar vows to get better as he claims Ballon d’Or for third time
As Stephanie Roche turns her attention to making something like a living from the game she plays so well, Real Madrid star Ronaldo has signalled his determination to continue in his quest to become “one of the greatest players of all time”.
If gongs are one of the ways in which these things are measured, then the Portuguese took another step along that particular road at the Fifa Ballon d’Or in Zurich where he picked up the main award, his third, and so matched the achievements of Johann Cruyff and Michel Platini.
Roche left with her head held high. The Dubliner’s strike attracted over one million votes from members of the public, which amounted to 33 per cent of the total, in the Ferenc Puskas (Goal of the Year) award. That was three times as many as Robin van Persie’s remarkable header against Spain at the World Cup got, but it was not enough to beat Ronaldo’s Real team mate, James Rodriguez, who came home first with some 42 per cent of the 3.3 million votes cast.
Rodriguez was gracious afterwards, describing Roche’s effort as a “golazo” or amazing goal, and added that it had “deserved to win, but only one can”.
In the voting for the main prize of the night, neither of the main rivals were anywhere near so reasonable, with neither Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi, who now leads his fellow striker by just one Ballon d’Or, giving any of their top-three preferences to the other.
The competitiveness extended to their national team coaches, who also voted so as to maximise their own man’s chances, and while Manuel Neuer was spared the indignity of having to suggest that neither striker merited inclusion in a list of the world’s top three players last year, Bastian Schweinsteiger seemed to cope pretty well with the task, voting first for the goalkeeper, then for two other Bayern Munich stars, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller.
And so, while Fifa did their utmost to lend an Oscars sheen to the proceedings, the voting again had just a whiff of Eurovision about it.
The reality, though, was that Ronaldo was a clear winner, with the Portugal captain taking more than twice as many points as either of his two closest rivals under a system which allows each international manager, team captain and a representative of the nation’s media to vote, and then allocates five points for a first preference, three for a second and one for a third.
Ronaldo secured around half the first preferences and was the undisputed choice of all three categories of voter. The Irish all weighed in behind him, with Martin O’Neill giving him his first preference, Messi his second and Diego Costa his third. Robbie Keane differed only in that he replaced Costa with Gareth Bale, while the media’s Paul Kelly put Müller between the other pair.
Some were more adventurous. While Wayne Rooney supported his former team-mate by voting number one for Ronaldo and omitting Messi altogether, England manager Roy Hodgson ignored the claims of both men and gave his top spot to Javier Mascherano, who enjoyed a brilliant World Cup.
Ronaldo, who was also named as Uefa’s best Player in Europe back in August, made no immediate reference to having narrowed the gap on his rival at Barcelona, but the pair have now won the award between them for the past seven years straight and this being a second in a row for the Portuguese, he sounded intent on maintaining his run in order to eclipse Messi.
“To win a trophy of this kind is unique,” he said. “All I can say is that I want to continue working to win as many titles as possible; to improve, to become better as each day goes by.
“I would never have thought that I might win this trophy on three separate occasions. I want to become one of the best players of all time. It requires a lot of work but I hope to get there.”
The latter enjoyed particular support in some quarters for the scale of his achievement with Atlético Madrid last year but Löw’s success with Germany in Brazil, the manner of it and his central role in developing the group of players that took the world title back to his homeland marked him out as a worthy winner.
All of the top three Ballon d’Or contenders, needless to say, were included in the team of the year, which was completed by Lahm, David Luiz, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Andres Iniesta, Toni Kroos, Ángel Di María and Arjen Robben.