Our Man Of The Year Will See You Now
FourFourTwo UK|January 2017

Champions League and European Championship medals in the bag make 2016 Cristiano Ronaldo’s most fruitful year to date. Next up, he says, is a plan to conquer Hollywood...

Ben Welch

Crammed inside an auditorium at the Portuguese Football Federation’s headquarters, a throng of journalists hold up their phones as if they’re hysterical teenyboppers at a Justin Bieber concert. The lights dim and a blanket of silence engulfs the room. Rio Ferdinand and Ricardo Quaresma – two familiar faces among the panel of luminaries sitting up on the stage – look over their shoulders at a giant TV screen.

Inspiring music plays in surround sound as the screen flickers with a montage of Portugal’s talisman. Having left his seat for a prime view from the floor, Cristiano Ronaldo is fixated on the monitor, eyes wide, grinning ear-to-ear like a child mesmerised by their favourite cartoon.

The film stops, the lights come on and applause rings around the room. Ronaldo resumes his position on stage next to former Manchester United team-mate Ferdinand, who asks him to sum up a stellar 2016 at the launch of his latest signature football boot.

“Unbelievable,” says the Portugal captain, still wearing the same uncontrollable grin. “It’s difficult to put it all into words. It has been the most important year of my career so far.”

There’s no arguing with that. Dragging his club and country to glory last season with match-winning displays in the Champions League and European Championship surpassed all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s previous triumphs, and there have been many.

This year’s accomplishments weren’t all achieved with trademark Roy of the Rovers moments. Yet, through bad performances, injuries, tantrums, tears and reinvention as a touchline manager, Ronaldo has emerged triumphant, and is FFT’s Man of the Year.

Like him or loathe him, the more you learn about the Portuguese forward’s relentless pursuit of perfection, the more you realise his unparalleled success has been well and truly earned.

When you tally up Ronaldo’s achievements in 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking he had it all his own way. In fact, it started with disappointment. His eternal nemesis, Barcelona’s diminutive genius Lionel Messi, reclaimed the Ballon d’Or on January 12, 2015 to win an unprecedented fifth award and deny the Real Madrid superstar a third successive trophy. If you’ve seen Ronaldo’s documentary, you’ll know this loss would have stirred the beast within him. The Ballon d’Or, football’s most prestigious individual prize, marks the universal recognition he craves to the point of obsession.

Spurred on, he plundered goal after goal as Real Madrid tried to claw back a poor start to the La Liga season under Rafa Benitez. The Spanish manager lost his job at the start of January following a 2-2 draw in Valencia. In came Zinedine Zidane, but despite nine wins in 12 games, they remained 10 points off Barça.

On April 2, Ronaldo and Messi met for a Camp Nou Clasico with the Catalans unbeaten in 39 games. The 10 men of Madrid came from behind to win 2-1, a first defeat in six months for Barcelona, with Ronaldo scoring the late winner. It was his 42nd goal of the season on a night when both he and Real were far from impressive, but he still had the courage and the quality to deliver at the decisive moment. This was to become a theme of his career-defining season.

Real Madrid’s recovery took the La Liga title race right to the final day, but the Champions League still represented their best chance of winning a trophy. Then they were left stunned by Wolfsburg, who took control of their quarter-final with a 2-0 win in the first leg. In a side full of superstars, up stepped Ronaldo – again. His hat-trick in the second leg sent his team into the semi-finals.

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