Viva Ronaldo: Why Cristiano is FourFourTwo's player of 2013
When FourFourTwo sat down in a darkened room to compile the finer details of this year's Top 100, there was one issue we knew would take longer to thrash out than most. We should have been used to it, of course - it's a debate we've addressed every year for the last five years, but this time it seemed even harder to settle.
Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? The Argentine was our Player of the Year in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and every year the decision seemed to get easier.
In a way, Cristiano is the most underrated player in the history of football. Every glorious flash of skill, every thunderous strike, and every moment of mind-bending football magic is greeting by grumbles of "Messi could do it better".
Messi and Ronaldo are both immensely talented and idols in their own right, but are seemingly now almost completely defined by each other's existence and actions.
As a generation of football fans, we're very lucky. Not only do we get to witness the rare spectacle of two of the all-time great players plying their trade in the same league at the same time, we're also able to watch every single one of their matches. We should really just sit back and enjoy the show.
So why has FourFourTwo named the Real Madrid man our No.1 of 2013? A popular argument will surely be that Messi won a trophy in 2013, while Ronaldo didn't. A fair point, but team performance isn't always a complete indication of the ability or performances of the members of that side.
Clearly, Messi is no David May, the man famed for getting himself front and centre of Manchester United's 1999 Champions League celebrations despite his role in the triumph being minimal. The Argentine has been the star attraction at Camp Nou once again, but the supporting cast has also been stronger.
Had Karim Benzema had a better year, taking a few more chances, it's possible Madrid could have challenged more strongly for honours both domestically and continentally.
Madrid are no one-man team, but Portugal may well be. No match sums up Ronaldo's ability to single-handedly drag a team to victory than his second leg showing in the recent World Cup qualifying play-off against Sweden (although FFT's decision had long since been made by that stage).
With Portugal rocking after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put Sweden into a 2-1 lead on the night, Ronaldo grasped at his chance to prove himself a national hero, and an international great. He scored twice to complete a memorable hat-trick and seal his team's place in Brazil next summer. In the process he displayed his trademark cocktail of skill, guile, pace and sheer power that so often sees him score goals few others in the history of the game could manage.
Ronaldo managed a la Liga goal every 84 minutes in the year up to November 1st, becoming the only player in Europe's top five leagues to score three league hat-tricks in the same period. He has also scored 14 goals in the Champions League this year - more than any other player.
The Portuguese predator has only looked like getting better now he has Gareth Bale alongside him, while if anything, Barcelona seem a little less reliant on Lionel Messi than they were before the arrival of Tata Martino and Neymar. The injury that curtailed the Argentina star's year and the 'goal drought' that has seen him not score in five league matches also worked in Ronaldo's favour.
It's also worth noting that in each of the last two years, the top three of FFT's 100 has been matched by the top three at the Ballon d'Or a few weeks later. We've also 'predicted' the winner of FIFA's big gong for four years running (granted, it was Leo Messi every time). We're not suggesting they're copying us, of course, rather that this may be some indication of how the big gig in Zurich early next year will end, and Ronaldo's 2014 will begin.
"I think we can win both the league and the Champions League [in 2014]", Cristiano says in an interview in the January 2014 issue of FourFourTwo, out December 4. With the forward in this form, who'd bet against it?