Cristiano Ronaldo versus Manchester United: Impact on Ballon d’Or 2018?

It’s the morning after the night before, when Old Trafford welcomed back a former Stretford End hero for the second time in five years. Here, we look at what Tuesday night’s events might do for Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of a sixth Ballon d’Or. Perhaps the greatest soccer player to ever play, Ronaldo is getting older but still scoring amazing goals.

The man in question is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo – now older, wiser, and perhaps slower, but no less skillful and where will he play next. This time, the once rumored United target and five-time Champions League winner returned as a Bianconeri, representing the unstoppable Italian champions Juventus, and his performance reminded everyone of what United lost nearly ten years ago (as then reported by BBC Sport) in a summer transfer window that preceded the temporary surrender of their Premier League crown. He worked exceptionally well alongside Paulo Dybala, in a partnership that harked back to his days spent playing in the supporting role behind the likes of Carlos Tevez and a prime Wayne Rooney.

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Tifo football analyses Ronaldo’s evolution as a player.

Rolling back the years

Playing the full ninety against the odds – as reported in the Guardian – Ronaldo also displayed the pace, vision and intelligence necessary to work on the overlap with fullback Alex Sandro. This too, was a reminder of the golden late-2000s, when Patrice Evra dominated the left flank to Ronaldo’s benefit. He clearly hasn’t lost the expert touch, so could his Old Trafford performance be another catalyst towards one final push for the Ballon d’Or? The short answer is obviously no, even though his efforts have (as of 24 October 2018) helped shorten Juventus’ odds of winning the Champions League. Calm and assured though he was at his old home, he didn’t score or even get an assist, and in any case, it would be very reactionary to base a Ballon d’Or win on just one performance. That said, the emotional context of particular games, such as Juventus win at Old Trafford, can certainly give them more clout when it comes to decision time for the judging panel.

In each of the last nine editions of the Ballon d’Or awards, the greatest piece of personal silverware in the football world has gone to Messi or Ronaldo. After scooping the coveted trophy at last year’s Ballon d’Or awards with his peerless style, Ronaldo cancelled out his personal gap behind Messi, representing his fourth triumph over Messi in five years. The shock value of a Ronaldo win, to make it six wins to five against long-term rival Lionel Messi, would also give the panel some notoriety. In years gone by, with either Ronaldo or Messi the only two realistic candidates, the Ballon d’Or has become a source of more drama than ever before. First, there is the announcement, then the focus on the expression of the loser – the second-best footballer in the world – before it is captured, given a witticism in Impact font and broadcast to clamoring masses on social media.

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This is how Ronaldo manages to find space in high-pressure situations.

Ronaldo Getting Better with Age?

Clearly, the advent of Ronaldo’s thirties has not heralded the expected slowdown of ‘CR7’. Ronaldo got twelve goals in the 2016/17 Champions League, and fifteen in last season’s tournament, have ensured that the legend has now finished top (or joint-top) of the Champions League scoring charts in the last seven successive seasons. Although undoubtedly a great achievement, it should be noted that Ronaldo’s goal-per-minute rate has not always outstripped the rest of the competition. In 2016/17, for instance, Messi took just 810 minutes to score eleven times. Based on that strike rate, Messi would have netted as many as seventeen goals, had Barcelona managed to reach the final that season.

There is even more topical ammunition for those who doubt Ronaldo’s credentials to make it five awards in six years, there is also the more homely fact that there are simply players that have been just as good – if not better – over the course of this calendar year. Gareth Bale and Kylian Mbappe are two names that spring to mind in that regard, having shone in the Champions League and the 2018 World Cup, respectively. From a strictly English perspective, Harry Kane and Mo Salah are also worthy of serious consideration after being unplayable for their respective clubs last season. In short, this year’s Ballon d’Or is as open as it gets.