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Ronaldo proves he is a cut above the rest

The underwear billboards lining many of Madrid's main thoroughfares provide one well-waxed reason why Cristiano Ronaldo is destined never to achieve the shabby populist charm of his closest rival for the title of the greatest footballer of his generation.

An emotional Cristiano Ronaldo collects his award in Zurich last night. Picture: Reuters
An emotional Cristiano Ronaldo collects his award in Zurich last night. Picture: Reuters

Perhaps that is precisely why the blundering scissors of Sepp Blatter cut so deep when, in an Oxford Union address in October, the FIFA president joked of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi that "one has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other".

It was a barb which only served to accentuate the "bridesmaid" tag which invariably comes hand-in-hand with being classified as second best over three of the last four years: a gap no amount of salon hours or giant air-brushed images could hope to obscure.

In the global economic downturn, it is Messi's anti-fame message which strikes more of a chord. Only a year in which he created most of his beauty on the pitch was ever going to haul Ronaldo to his place back upon football's high altar.

In being crowned the world's best player in Zurich last night, Ronaldo - a previous winner in 2008 and runner-up in 2009, 2011 and 2012, each time to Messi - becomes only the 10th multiple winner of the game's most prestigious individual award.

Salon or not, 2013 was a year in which Ronaldo proved he deserved to shine in the illustrious company of such double and triple winners as Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer and (whisper it) Messi himself.

While the previously imperious Messi was ailed by a series of persistent injuries, Portugal's great talisman conjured arguably the greatest individual performance of the year to lift his nation almost single-handedly back into the World Cup finals.

On November 19 in Stockholm, with his team holding a slender first-leg lead on account of a goal the man himself inevitably converted, Ronaldo went head-to-head with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. So often such individual billings fall flat, but on this night both men rose to the occasion, and Ronaldo, irresistibly, came out on top.

His hat trick proved enough to snuff out the threat of the Swedes, for whom Ibrahimovic had scored twice in four second-half minutes to put his side ahead, and was most likely the night he sealed his elevation to the status he has publicly craved since 2008. Yet it was merely the headline act in a year which spectacularly vindicated Ronaldo's status as a player of substance over style. He scored 66 goals in 56 appearances for Real Madrid last year, notwithstanding his international exploits.

The Portuguese fought back tears as he received the award: "Everybody that has been involved with me on a personal level I have to thank. My wife, my friends, my son. It is a tremendously emotional moment. All I can say is thank you to everybody."

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