Guillem Balague
Spanish Football Expert & Columnist

Ballon d'Or: Cristiano Ronaldo's improved image helped win, says Guillem Balague

Ronaldo: no longer seen as the villain

Seemingly the perennial bridesmaid to the blushing bride that is Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo finally got the love and approbation from the world's footballing cognoscenti winning the 2013 Ballon d'Or in Zurich today.

Runner-up to the little Argentinian for three out of the last four years, Ronaldo's greatness as a superstar player has never been in question. But in these days of high profile image requirements that go beyond just the game, CR7 always seemed to find himself unfairly cast as the villain to the hero that has been the squeaky clean Messi.

Now the balance of the public's perceptions looks to be changing. It feels like the world has gone a bit tired of the same face at the top of the chain.

Franck Ribery said on Sunday that no matter who won, Messi should be considered the best player in the world and not many will argue with that, but it feels like everything has been allowed to tarnish the image of Messi in the last few months.

Made up stories, the tax situation (with many taking conclusions before the court case finished) and gestures on the pitch taken out of context have had the positive effect of rebalancing an image battle that had been very unfair on Ronaldo - they have both sacrificed and worked a lot to get where they are.

The media picture of villain and heroes is finally disappearing - they should both be considered heroes.

La Liga's Terry Gibson gives his thoughts after Cristiano Ronaldo was announced as the 2013 Ballon D'Or winner.

What is certain however is that Ronaldo seems to have been working on the building of a more user-friendly, less arrogant image than that of the pouting, strutting diva he has been perceived as by so many.

The much-publicised pictures and news footage of him warmly greeting Gareth Bale to the Bernabeu are a case in point. Or maybe the joys of fatherhood have helped him to mellow? Him backing up his team-mates versus Jose Mourinho won everybody's respect at Real Madrid too.

Inglorious

One thing that most certainly did affect the vote was FIFA's inglorious contribution to the event.

Originally all votes had to be in by November 15, but football's governing body then decided to extend the deadline to November 29 partly because they wanted as near as possible to a 100% poll, but also to take in the World Cup play-off games.

While a date extension was just - and only just - about defensible, the decision to announce that anyone that had previously voted could change their selection, was nothing short of shameful.

France Football, though, insisted that could not happen, votes couldn't be changed. The voting system has been a bit of a farce.

Without taking anything away from Ronaldo's triumph, the truth is that had the deadline not been extended, Messi could have picked up his fifth title in a row.

Ronaldo's stellar display in the play-off games against Sweden, when he scored all four goals over the two legs that saw Portugal make it to the finals, coupled with the muscle injury that would keep Messi out for the rest of the year, almost certainly sealed the deal.

Never in the history of the award has there been more talk and speculation on the street about who should win it and why, which is probably - with all due respect to Ribery - an acknowledgement by lovers of football throughout the world that in Messi and Ronaldo we are probably seeing the two greatest players in the history of the game (and perhaps a reflection on society too -where the individual still gains more consideration than the team effort).

Messi, despite being injured for the last couple of months of the year, took Barcelona to another La Liga title in 2013 and the Spanish Super Cup, scoring 45 goals in 46 appearances for club and country along the way.

Ronaldo scored a staggering 69 goals in 60 games for Real Madrid and Portugal in 2013 and was certainly the main difference in the two World Cup play-off ties.

Now with this monkey off his back he can concentrate on winning proper trophies like cups, Champions Leagues and leagues because, in truth, despite his undoubted greatness, his four-and-a-half year tenure at Real Madrid has seen him earn just one La Liga, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup.

Congratulations Ronaldo, you deserve it. It is a privilege to see you weekly in our league.