Cristiano Ronaldo has challenged this year’s Ballon d’Or contenders Mo Salah, Kylian Mbappe and others to emulate himself and Lionel Messi and dominate the game for the next decade.
Messi and Ronaldo have won the Ballon d’Or — awarded to the planet’s best player — five times each over the last ten years, trading the individual honour while their clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, have ridden roughshod over Spanish and European football for much of the period.
Ronaldo found the net 44 times in as many competitive outings for Madrid last season, including a spectacular strike in the Spanish giants’ third successive UEFA Champions League final triumph.
Though he was unable to help Portugal beyond the round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup, another hugely impressive year at club level means he remains one of the main challengers to win the 2018 Ballon d’Or.
In an interview released on Tuesday in France Football, Ronaldo admitted competition would be stiff, but threw down the gauntlet to the men who would deprive him of a record sixth win in the poll of football journalists from around the world.
“It’ll be the same [names] as usual, but I don’t know if Messi will be on the podium this time. So, let’s say Salah, Modric, Griezmann, Varane, Mbappe, the French in general because they’re world champions. But I’m waiting to see if all those players are still at the top in 10 years, as Messi and I have been, and as we continue to be. We’re always there, on the podium for more than 10 years,” said Ronaldo, who has been included on the 30-strong list of nominees.
“People would like it to be the end of an era, but that’s not the case. I am and will still be there. And I deserve it. My performances speak for themselves. Don’t count me out!”
A sixth Ballon d’Or would put Ronaldo out on his own as the single-most successful player in the award’s history, but he explained he would lose no sleep if he does not emerge victorious when the winner is revealed in Paris on Dec. 3.
“I have said several times winning a sixth Ballon d’Or isn’t an obsession,” insisted the former Manchester United man, who has claimed the honour the last two years. “I already know, deep down, that I’m one of the best players of all-time. Of course I want to win it, that sixth Ballon d’Or. I would be lying if I told you the contrary.
“I work for that. Just like I work to score goals and win matches without that becoming an obsession. The Ballon d’Or, yes, I think I deserve it this year. And I work hard for that to be the case every year. I know what I do, that I compile stats regularly all year long, what I win in terms of trophies. And you know it just as well as me.
“But I also know what the others do, the credit they have, and I have a lot of respect for them. If I don’t win the Ballon d’Or, I’ll sleep just the same at night, because I know who I am. Yes, I dream of winning the Ballon d’Or for a sixth time and to pass, at the current time, Lionel Messi. But I don’t control the vote, just my performances.”
Ronaldo’s individual duel with Messi has been the tussle within the battle for dominance between Spain’s two biggest clubs.
Ronaldo gave some distance to their personal rivalry by swapping the European champions for Juventus in the summer.
The 33-year-old said the surprise switch was actually part of the strategy that has helped him maintain his position as one of football’s premier performers.
“That’s the most difficult thing in this sport: staying at the top, maintaining your level. Going to the gym for three or four hours to keep your body in shape, that’s fine. What’s tough is to keep that work ethic, that motivation that allows you to be the same player long term. That’s very hard. Really. And it’s even more so when you have done that for so many years, when you’ve been at the top for 12 years, without interruption, with trophies to win every year. No one understands that.
“Do you know how many players are able to be at the top of their form for more than 10 years? You can count them on the fingers of one hand. OK, let’s say there are two: Messi and I. That’s why it’s always important to have a challenge, a feat to accomplish, and that’s the reason I’m here. I needed adrenaline, stimulation. To write a new page in the novel of the world’s best player.”
Questions were asked of the wisdom of the Italian side paying an estimated nine-figure sum for the Portugal international, especially when he failed to find the net in his first three Serie A appearances for the Bianconeri. Seven goals in as many league games since have silenced the doubters, however, with the former Sporting prodigy continuing to make light of his age, one which would often see a player opting for more exotic climes.
“At 33, no one expects you to ask questions of yourself. At that age, no player goes from one big club to another for €100 million. It’s mad! At my age, and I say this with the utmost respect for those who do it, players go to China, the Emirates or India, and they finish their career there, without maintaining their level. In a way, I’m proud not to think like that, to be a different animal, a different athlete, a different person with a different brain. I’m not saying I’m better, just different. But that’s perhaps why I’ve been at the top of the game for 12 years,” explained Ronaldo, whose stats based on recent FIFA World Cup performances — France Football claimed — had been those of a player 10 years younger.
“In the head, yes. And it’s the head that controls everything,” responded Ronaldo when asked if he felt like a 23-year-old. “Age is in the head. That’s what enables me to still be at the top now, to enjoy what I do on the pitch just as much, to be happy, quite simply. I know it’ll come to an end one day. In four, five, six years, who knows…it’s the attitude that makes and will make the difference. Now, I’m motivated and relishing the present.”
Asked if he felt his physical powers were waning, he admitted, “From a certain point of view, yes. Except that when you look at the stats, you see that I’m still performing in an incredible way. The numbers never lie, and they are good. I’m still enjoying myself. So, I’m not asking myself questions.”