Cristiano Ronaldo took the decision to stay away from the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco for the Champions League group stage draw on Thursday, where the winner of the 2017-18 Player of the Year contest was also to be announced.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, where Ronaldo was announced as UEFA’s best forward, the Juventus CEO Beppe Marotta confirmed that it was a late, personal decision from his new superstar striker and one that the club respected.
It has since been speculated that Ronaldo avoided it because he was not going to win the main award. His former Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric took the spoils instead.
Ronaldo’s agent – Jorge Mendes – all but confirmed that theory when he spoke to the Portuguese press afterwards.
“It’s ridiculous, shameful,” he told Record . “The winner is not in doubt, as Ronaldo is the best in his position.
“Football is played on the field and that’s where Cristiano won.
“He scored 15 goals, carried Real Madrid on his back and conquered the Champions League again.”
Mendes may well be Ronaldo’s biggest hype man and usually needs no encouragement to promote his No. 1 client. But, on this count, he was right. UEFA’s jury erred and erred badly by not giving Ronaldo the top prize.
He scored 15 goals in only 13 Champions League games and did more than most to help Madrid carry off their third consecutive European title. He may have been quiet in the final, but he stamped his class all over the competition all season long.
His overhead kick in the quarter-finals against Juventus was rightly judged as the competition’s best goal and his nerveless penalty in the 97th minute of that tie’s second leg earned Real their qualification.
He made a new Champions League record by scoring in 11 consecutive matches and in the bargain became the first man ever to win five Champions League medals.
Add in the fact he’s the Champions League all-time top goalscorer by a margin of 20 goals and you’ll come to the realisation that Ronaldo is Mr Champions League.
And, given that the men’s Champions League is the main club competition that UEFA overseas, shouldn’t it be that one that dictates who should win the best player award?
Instead there seems to be some recency bias on display by the voting panel. A total of 80 coaches and 55 journalists were asked to submit their nominees and a shortlist was announced on August 20.
The 80 coaches represented the 32 competing teams from the Champions League last season and the 48 from the Europa League. The 55 European Sports Media journalists were from each of UEFA’s member associations.
Each jury member wrote a list of three players with the top pick gaining five points, the second pick three points and the third pick one point. Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players.
On that basis, Modric won out with 313 points to Ronaldo’s 223. That is a wide margin but – perhaps – indicative that the jury had the World Cup more in mind than the Champions League.
Modric won the FIFA Golden Ball award having helped Croatia to the final where they were beaten by France. His performances in Russia were consistent and – allied with his Champions League form – should see him in contention for more individual prizes later on in the year.
That said, Ronaldo was no slouch at the World Cup either with his four goals helping him become Europe’s all-time leading international goalscorer. His hat-trick, including a brilliant last-minute free-kick against Spain, will go down as one of the World Cup’s all-time great performances.
But UEFA looks after the Champions League and tries its best to make sure that the world sees it as the pre-eminent competition. Indeed, one of the sticks to beat international football with in recent times has been that it’s a step back from the standard of the Champions League and that tournament is really the true test of greatness.
Why now would UEFA’s voting panel take the decision to look at competitions outside its jurisdiction when deciding the best player?
It wasn’t the case in 2014 when Manuel Neuer was the highest-performing World Cup star on the UEFA Player of the Year list. He finished second. To whom? Cristiano Ronaldo, who had led Madrid to La Decima.
Angel Di Maria finished ninth on that list and – like Modric – won the Champions League for Real Madrid and finished as the World Cup runner-up.
Ronaldo’s been the boss for so long in the Champions League that it’s easy to take it for granted. Scoring 15 goals in 13 matches, breaking more records and winning more titles than anyone else has got to count for something, hasn’t it?
It was an extraordinary season in European competition by anyone’s standards. What kind of season does Ronaldo need to have in order to stand out? Where do you go when 15 goals and another medal is no longer enough?
It appears that Modric won the vote because he deserves an individual honour of some kind. He has been so good for so long that it is time he was recognised for what he is. He is the metronome for club and country and one of the architects of Madrid’s four Champions League titles in five seasons. But it shouldn’t have been this one.
This one was for Ronaldo. He’s no longer with Real Madrid. How quickly people forget.