Cristiano Ronaldo looks poised to seal his fourth Ballon d’Or on Monday to get one over his old rival Lionel Messi in their long-running duel for the title of world’s best footballer.
It will be the perfect ending to another terrific year for the Real Madrid star, who won the Champions League for the second time in three seasons and then led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016 – albeit he went off early injured and in tears in the win over France.
As has been the case for almost a decade now, the 31-year-old’s main rival will be his nemesis Messi – but the Barcelona and Argentine maestro has had by his own lofty standards a less-than-stellar year for club and country with the top prizes eluding him on both fronts.
Never one to play down his achievements, Ronaldo was spotted midweek in training having dyed his hair gold in anticipation.
It will be Ronaldo’s fourth Ballon d’Or crown, one less than last year’s winner Messi.
“For me there is no debate. The Ballon will be for him,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said after his talisman’s hat-trick saw off Atletico Madrid last month to underpin Real’s domination in La Liga.
“He showed it last season and he shows it again and again. We expect a lot of him but he stands above everyone.”
Despite such effusive praise Ronaldo, rested at the weekend ahead of the Club World Cup in Japan, has had some negative headlines – not least pertaining to accusations of tax evasion.
Denying any wrongdoing, he responded by publishing his financial records on Thursday, showing last year he earned a bumper 227 million euros ($240 million).
“You believe I am worried? He who owes nothing, fears nothing,” Ronaldo told broadcaster RTP.
Ronaldo first won the Ballon d’Or in 2008 after Premier League and Champions League triumphs with Manchester United.
But it was only in 2013 that he added his second – Messi had hogged it before then – and Ronaldo made it a hat-trick the following year.
The first Ballon d’Or was won by Stanley Matthews, at the time with Blackpool, who beat Alfredo Di Stefano for the inaugural title in 1956.
This year marks the end of six years of joint awards by founders France Football and FIFA, which will revert to bestowing a “Best” accolade of its own on January 9 to both male and female players.
The Ballon d’Or will henceforth be decided by a vote of 173 journalists while national team captains and managers will no longer have a say.
Monday’s prize will be announced at 1900 GMT in Paris, but Ronaldo is not expected to be present because of the Club World Cup.