FIFA BALLON D'OR

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CR7 caps stellar season with award

Cristiano Ronaldo wins 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or
Cristiano Ronaldo wins 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal was awarded the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or as the world’s best soccer player of the past year, beating out Barcelona and Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich and France’s Franck Ribéry.

As Ronaldo accepted the award, he exhaled hard. Then he cried a few tears as his young son joined him on stage. His mother cried. His girlfriend cried. His voice broke. He fixed his hair, and stumbled through his speech. If he seemed surprised, he was the only one.

We already kind of knew who would win the big prize, finally given out after a phalanx of other prizes had been unloaded. In fact, German sports magazine Sportsbild announced earlier in the day that Ronaldo would win it, with Ribéry coming second, and Messi placing third (They were wrong: Ribery actually came third.) That only confirmed long-held suspicions that Ronaldo would claim back the prize he’d last won in 2008 -- back when the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or were separate prizes and he won both -- before Messi went on a record four-year run.

With 69 goals for club and country in 2013, Ronaldo outscored both Messi (45) and Ribéry (23). Ribéry had 22 assists to Messi’s 14 and Ronaldo’s 16. But if you add them up, Ronaldo’s total involvement in 85 goals easily dwarfed Messi’s (59) and Ribéry’s (45). He also scored all four goals in Portugal’s aggregate 4-2 World Cup qualifying victory over Sweden, sending his country to Brazil this summer.

So Ronaldo, quite rightfully and with his usual bluster, felt that he deserved it. “I think I deserve to win the Ballon d’Or every year,” he told A Bola in Spain before the ceremony. But he’d been spurned each of the last four years. He’s used to disappointment by now. “If I win, fine, if I don’t, life goes on,” he said. Clearly though, it meant more to him than that when he did win it.

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And to say he won it by default would be unfair. Ronaldo had yet another transcendent year. But the fact is that he was helped a tad by Messi’s nagging hamstring and thigh injuries, which sidelined him for several months in all. The Portuguese attacker continued to transcend his sport in his own right, the way he has for years. It’s just that in previous seasons he had the misfortune that Messi was even more exceptional. Not so this time.

Soccer, to state the very obvious, is a team sport. A sport in which teammates are so intertwined that there’s little telling who deserves credit for what, exactly, making it so hard to statistically quantify it. It follows that individual prizes are anathema to that notion. If you nevertheless insist on giving out the award to an individual, there’s an argument to be made that Ribéry deserved it, too. He was, in fact, the favorite until FIFA extended the voting period until after Europe’s World Cup qualifying playoffs were through, claiming that low voter turnout among the eligible national team head coaches, captains and journalists necessitated it. And so the momentum pendulum swung to Ronaldo.

But Ronaldo won no team prize this year. Messi won just one, Spain’s La Liga. And Ribéry? He won five, winning the UEFA Champions League, German Bundesliga, German DFB Pokal, FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. The biggest prizes out there on club level, in other words.

Ahead of the award, Bayern president Uli Hoeness called shenanigans, arguing that Ribéry couldn’t win because “It won’t suit a few people politically if Bayern win it all." The Frenchman himself reckoned that he still had a shot, saying he had a “funny feeling.” He wanted to win it not for himself, he said, but for the entire team.

He didn’t. Confirming that individual performance counts before team achievement. Which is probably fair, since the prize is an individual one. Either way, one of the sport’s phenoms has spelled the other as its premier player. And how exactly, Messi will react, will be what to watch for this year.

In the other awards, Nadine Angerer was named as the Female Player of the Year. The German became the first goalkeeper to win the award, beating out American star Abby Wambach and Brazil’s Marta. Angerer saved two penalties in final game of the 2013 European Women’s Championship to lead her nation past Norway.

Jupp Heynckes and Silvia Neid won the men’s and women’s coaches of the year awards, respectively. Heynckes retired last season after leading Bayern to an historic treble; Neid is the current manager of the European champion German national women’s team.

Pele was presented with the inaugural Prix D’Honneur for his contributions to the sport. He broke down on the stage, overcome by the emotion, when he was presented with the award. Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the Puskas award for Goal of the Year for the goal he scored for Sweden against England this past November.

FOXSoccer.com's senior editor Jamie Trecker contributed to this report.

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