Soccer’s best: Ronaldo wins 3rd Ballon d’Or
AP Sports Writer
MADRID — After giving a European Championship title to Portugal and another Champions League trophy to Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo ends 2016 with something just for himself — his fourth world player of the year award.
Ronaldo on Monday won his third Ballon d’Or award, which this year is being handed out by France Football magazine separately from FIFA. Ronaldo also took home the Ballon d’Or prize in 2013 and 2014, and the FIFA award in 2008 while still playing for Manchester United.
The Portugal forward is also in contention for FIFA’s prize this year, along with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, who finished second and third to Ronaldo on Monday, respectively.
“This was likely the best year of my career, individually and collectively,” Ronaldo said in a pre-recorded video. “It was unforgettable.”
Only Ronaldo and Messi have been voted the best in the world since 2007, when Kaka won the prize. Messi won a record fifth award last year.
“For me it’s a great honor to receive my fourth golden ball,” Ronaldo said. “I never thought in my mind to win (it) four times, so I’m so pleased, I’m so happy. I have to thank all my teammates, the national team, Real Madrid, all the people, all the players who helped me win this individual award.”
Messi was runner-up for the fifth time in his career, while Griezmann finished third after a remarkable year with France and Atletico Madrid. Luis Suarez was fourth and Barcelona teammate Neymar fifth in the results announced by the Paris-based magazine.
Ronaldo teammate Gareth Bale, who led Wales to the semifinals at Euro 2016, was sixth. Leicester had Riyad Mahrez finishing seventh and Jamie Vardy eighth. Madrid defender Pepe and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon tied for ninth.
The 31-year-old Ronaldo was picked from a list of 30 players by a group of international journalists selected by France Football, which for the previous six years awarded the coveted prize in partnership with FIFA. Soccer’s governing body, which relies on the votes of coaches, team captains, journalists and — for the first time — an online poll of fans, will be handing out its own award in January.
“I’m happy because I worked very hard to win this,” Ronaldo said. “It’s not easy to stay at a high level year after year. You can count on one hand the players who can do it, there are very few who can, and I do it year after year. That makes me very proud.”
Ronaldo is receiving the Ballon d’Or award a month after his contract with Madrid was extended until 2021, keeping him in Spain until he is 36 years old.
It has been an up-and-down season for him so far, but he couldn’t have finished the previous one more strongly.
Ronaldo converted the decisive penalty kick in a shootout against rival Atletico Madrid in the final of the Champions League, helping the Spanish powerhouse win the tournament for the second time in three seasons. Ronaldo also won the Champions League title with Manchester United in 2008.
Ronaldo scored a record 11 goals in the group stage of the European competition last season and finished with a total of 16, one short of the record he himself set in 2014. He is the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 95 goals, and is two away from becoming the first player to score 100 goals in European club competitions.
It was with Portugal that Ronaldo achieved one of his greatest feats, helping the nation win its maiden European title after several close calls, including a runner-up finish at home in 2004 when it lost to Greece.
“To win a title for the first time with Portugal was something that was missing from my resume,” Ronaldo said. “It was one of the most important moments of my life.”
Ronaldo scored one of the goals for Portugal in the 2-0 win over Wales in the semifinals at Euro 2016, then watched from the bench as his teammates defeated France 1-0 in extra time. Ronaldo played only 25 minutes of the final at Stade de France in July before being substituted because of a left-knee injury.
Ronaldo also won the European Super Cup with Madrid, as well as UEFA’s award as the best player in Europe last season, a prize he also won in 2014.
Ronaldo is with Real Madrid in Japan to play in FIFA’s Club World Cup.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni