Monday 18 November 2019

Eclipsed Messi casts fresh doubt on Barcelona future

Cristiano Ronaldo sits next to Lionel Messi and his wife
Cristiano Ronaldo sits next to Lionel Messi and his wife

Paul Hayward

Cristiano Ronaldo trounced Lionel Messi in the Ballon d'Or ballot on a day used by Barcelona's beaten megastar to cast fresh doubt on his future in Catalonia.

Part Hollywood premiere, part political platform, Fifa's awards night confirmed above all that this is the age of CR7, who polled 37.66pc of the votes compared to Messi's 15.76pc.

A measure of Ronaldo's standing among the national team captains, coaches and journalists who voted is that Messi struggled to hold second place against Manuel Neuer, Germany's World Cup winning goalkeeper, who scored 15.72pc.

Ronaldo will reward himself with a new micro-diamond encrusted CR7 logo for his boots. Messi said of Ronaldo's victory: "Yes, it's justified. It was deserved."

The decisive card for Ronaldo in his long poker game with Messi was his role in Real Madrid's yearned-for 10th European crown - and their first for 12 years - in a campaign that brought him a record-breaking 17 goals, beating Messi's previous best of 15.

Ronaldo scored seven times for club and country in 2014 and won four trophies.

Opta pointed out that Ronaldo has had 57 shots on target in La Liga this season - one more than the entire Aston Villa team in the Premier League.

However, there was a deeper resonance in his triumph over Messi.

It expressed the shift in power from Barcelona to Real Madrid and the political complications besetting Messi, who chose an event streamed around the world to say: "I am not sure where I will be next year."

Messi said: "I have always said I will end my career at Barcelona but as Cristiano said, only God knows the future. Things in football can change overnight."

Later he attempted to play down those comments, but seasoned observers in Spain said that he would have killed the question about what the future holds, had he not intended to renew his warning to Barcelona, where coach Luis Enrique is under severe pressure.

Chelsea and Manchester City are among the few viable destinations should Messi's relationship with Barca break down.

After the 3-1 victory against Atletico Madrid on Sunday, Messi claimed on Barcelona's own TV channel: "I haven't asked for anything to stay here because I have never wanted to go anywhere else."

This was a reference to reports that he has asked for coach Luis Enrique to be sacked.

"I have also heard that my father has spoken to Chelsea and City but it's all lies," he continued.

There is no such turmoil in Ronaldo's career.

"It's been an unforgettable year," he said. "To win this trophy - a trophy of this kind - is something unique, and all I can say is that I want to continue working as I have, and go on to more titles for my mother and my wife - and my father, who is up there looking down on me - and my son.

"I'd like to say to all the people of Portugal I never thought I would earn this trophy on three different occasions. I want to become one of the greatest players of all time."

Ronaldo is now only one Ballon d'Or title behind Messi, who leads 4-3, and has revived the 1950s at the Bernabeu.

Alfred Di Stefano won the equivalent award in 1957 and 1959, while Raymond Kopa filled the gap in 1958.

Luis Figo (2000), the Brazilian Ronaldo (2002) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006) were other Real Madrid winners.

Low saw off Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti, the two Madrid coaches who won La Liga and the Champions League respectively.

The vote reflected Germany's achievement in becoming the first European team to win a World Cup on the American continents. To do so, they beat Portugal, France, Brazil (7-1) and Argentina in the final. Joachim Low received 36.23pc of all votes, Ancelotti 22.06pc and Diego Simeone 19.02pc.

The Fifa Fair Play Award went to the 'Volunteers' at all international tournaments. World Coach of the year for women's football was Ralph Kellerman and best player was Germany's Nadine Kessler.

Japanese journalist Hiroshi Kagawa won the President's Award.

The Fifa-FIFPro team of the year provoked ridicule, with David Luiz among the defenders.

Luiz, who played in Brazil's 7-1 defeat to Germany, was chosen alongside Thiago Silva, who missed that game through suspension.

Neymar and Rodriguez both missed out but the Premier League managed one representative - Angel di Maria, for his efforts with Real Madrid and Argentina. The team was: Neuer; Ramos, Lahm, Luiz, Thiago Silva; Iniesta, Kroos, Di Maria; Ronaldo, Messi, Robben. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

How they voted . . .

Robbie Keane (Ireland captain): C Ronaldo, L Messi, G Bale

Martin O'Neill (Ireland manager):C Ronaldo, L Messi, D Costa

Wayne Rooney (England captain):C Ronaldo, T Kroos, G Bale

Roy Hodgson (England manager):J Mascherano, P Lahm, M Neuer

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal captain): S Ramos, G Bale, K Benzema

Lionel Messi (Argentina captain):A Di Maria, A Iniesta, J Mascherano

Scott Brown (Scotland captain):C Ronaldo, A Robben, M Neuer

Gordon Strachan (Scotland manager): C Ronaldo, D Costa, A Robben

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