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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo after being awarded the FIFA Ballon d'Or. Photo: Ruben Sprich/ Reuters

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo after being awarded the FIFA Ballon d'Or. Photo: Ruben Sprich/ Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Steffen Schmidt/ AP

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Steffen Schmidt/ AP

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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo after being awarded the FIFA Ballon d'Or. Photo: Ruben Sprich/ Reuters

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.

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 Lionel 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 rightful 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 of that of its precursor, the European Footballer of the Year.

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.

Threat

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 briefly 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, despite appearances, spectacularly vindicated Ronaldo's status as a football player of substance over style.

He scored a remarkable 66 goals in 56 appearances for Real Madrid in 2013, notwithstanding his international exploits. Here again the bridesmaid analogy rears its well-primped head. When Ronaldo ascended to the summit in 2008, he did so as an integral part of a Manchester United team which did the double of Premier League and UEFA Champions League success.

In 2013, Real were once again second best to Barca, fuelling fears among Ronaldo's allies that once again the global football jury would reward a man whose performances produced tangible team success rather than one whose team flailed in spite of the extraordinary influence of their star man.

There was no such danger.

However much Blatter and his like might blunder into clumsy coiffure comparisons, the naked truth is that where 2013 was concerned, there was only ever one man who was going to cut it.

An emotional Ronaldo paid tribute to his team-mates and family for helping him win the award and hopes to be back in the same position in 12 month's time. He said: "I have no words to describe this moment. Thanks to all of my team-mates, at Real Madrid and the national team.

"Without all of their efforts this would not have been possible. I am very happy, it is very difficult to win this award.

"Everybody that has been involved with me on a personal level I have to thank. My partner, my friends, my son. It is a tremendously emotional moment."

Ronaldo, who has scored 231 goals in 222 games for Madrid since joining them from United in 2009 and last week passed 400 goals for his career, added: "I'm going to try to give my best, like I always do, and I hope to be back next year to win the third Ballon d'Or of my career. That's what I intend to do."

Despite being hit by injuries, Messi also had another memorable year in 2013, although it was not quite enough to see him claim a fifth successive award and he hailed Ronaldo as a just winner.

"I want to congratulate Cristiano because he was the winner and deservedly so," said the 26-year-old, who was also asked if things might have been different if he had been fully fit for the whole year.

Merits

"I don't know if without the injury it would've been different. I was out for a lot of time. But that's neither here nor there. Cristiano merits it," he said.

Jupp Heynckes was named men's FIFA World Coach of the Year. Heynckes led Bayern to a record-breaking treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup in the 2012/13 campaign before stepping down at the end of the season, with Jurgen Klopp, the Borussia Dortmund manager second and former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson finishing in third spot.

FIFA BALLON D'OR: (184 national team coaches, 184 national team captains and 173 media representatives voted) 1 Cristiano Ronaldo: 1,365 points; 2 Lionel Messi: 1,205 points; 3 Franck Ribery: 1,127 points.


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