It did not matter that the voting went mostly as expected; Cristiano Ronaldo cried anyway.
Ronaldo, the star forward for Portugal and Real Madrid, broke down in tears on Monday night after being named FIFA’s world player of the year. He beat the Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi, who won the award the previous four years, and Franck Ribéry, the indomitable French midfielder for Bayern Munich.
Ronaldo, who scored 66 goals in 56 games last year, did not win a team trophy (Ribéry won five with Munich), but he did lead his national team to a place in the World Cup with a memorable performance against Sweden in the European playoffs. That star turn, in which Ronaldo scored all four of Portugal’s goals in the two-leg matchup, came — coincidentally — just as FIFA extended the voting period for the year-end award, citing an unusually low response rate in the balloting.
That extension surely helped, though considering Ronaldo’s productive scoring, as well as Messi’s injury-plagued season and Ribéry’s lack of gaudy statistics, his victory in the voting of national team coaches and captains and select journalists was largely expected. Ronaldo received 1,365 points, Messi 1,205 and Ribéry 1,127.
In truth, the player closest to Ronaldo in sheer quality, at least recently, was not on the final ballot: Liverpool’s Luis Suárez, who has scored 22 goals in 16 English Premier League games this season. Suárez received only two first-place votes, but each came from a teammate. In other voting oddities, neither Messi nor Ronaldo listed the other in his top three, and Jurgen Klinsmann, the United States coach, left off both: Klinsmann voted for Ribéry, Gareth Bale of Wales and the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
Nonetheless, Ronaldo was ecstatic after his name was called at the end of FIFA’s annual gala in Zurich. He dabbed at his eyes and was embraced by the Brazilian legend Pelé after the announcement. Ronaldo brought his young son, also named Cristiano, to the stage with him.
“I am very happy; it is very difficult to win this award,” he said. “It is a tremendously emotional moment.”
While Ronaldo’s victory was not especially dramatic, the naming of the World XI — a global all-star team of sorts that is based on votes from as many as 50,000 professional players around the world — was emblematic of a growing parity among the top international teams.
In the past, the World XI had been dominated by Spanish and Brazilian players, with last year’s edition being almost comically Iberian: all 11 players played in Spain, and 10 of the 11 played for either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Regardless of my nationality and simply as a football fan and supported, I believe Ronaldo really deserved this award for everything he did...
This year, however, for the first time since the World XI’s inception in 2005, Germany was represented among the all-stars. The inclusion of Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer and Ribéry was fitting; after all, many observers saw last year’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund as a symbol of the fast-rising stature of German soccer heading into this summer’s World Cup.
Lahm, Neuer and Ribéry were not the only Munich representatives honored; Jupp Heynckes, who retired after Munich’s sterling season, was also named the coach of the year.
“Maybe 10 years ago I wouldn’t even have dreamt of this,” said Heynckes, who saw Munich drop only 2 points in the second half of the season and clinch the Bundesliga title in April. “I am humbled and happy to be standing here.”
Perhaps the biggest stunner of the evening came during the announcement of the women’s player of the year. Abby Wambach, the United States national team’s productive forward and the winner of the award in 2012, figured to be favored along with Brazil’s Marta. But Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer won for the first time.
“I have to say that I’m a little surprised,” Angerer said.