Madeira Island is the richest Portuguese region after Lisbon, with higher per capita GDP than the overall European average. In a poor neighborhood of Madeira’s capital Funchal, lived José Dinis Aveiro. He was employed as a municipal gardener and his wife Maria Dolores worked as a cook in the homes of well-to-do. The couple had two daughters and a son. When Maria was pregnant again, Jose decided; if he had a son, he would name him after his favorite Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, who had recently become the President of the United States.

CR7 This is a little story of how Cristiano Ronaldo was christened after his birth. Two weeks ago, on January 13, 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo, or CR7 to his fans and many in the media, was named winner of Ballon d’Or, in a glittering 90-minute ceremony in Zurich. From a poor child, who couldn’t get to play with toys as a toddler, to millionaire footballer; it has been a remarkable 20-year journey for CR7.

In his childhood, poor Ronaldo played street football with neighborhood boys. When he was 8, Ronaldo played for Andorinha, an amateur team and by the time he was 10, he had joined a local football club, Nacional. Even at that age, his bright performance came to be noticed by Sporting Club of Portugal in Lisbon, or Sporting CP. They signed Ronaldo after some trials. At age 15, it was detected that Ronaldo had a racing-heart condition, for which he had to undergo surgery. A guided laser was used to cauterise the part of his heart, which caused the problem. Out of the hospital, Ronaldo returned to football in a jiffy. For Sporting CP, Ronaldo became the only footballer ever, to play in under-16, under-17, under-18, B-team, and first team in a single season. In 2002, he represented Portugal in European Under-17 Championship.

In August 2003, Sporting CP’s new stadium, Estadio Jose de Alvalade in Lisbon was ready for inauguration. The club invited Manchester United for the inaugural game. Playing for the home Club, 18-year old Ronaldo made brilliant demonstration of his football skills. He caught the immediate attention of Manchester United Coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, who was instantly convinced that David Beckham’s successor needed no further searching. So Ronaldo moved to England and played there until 2009, when Real Madrid bought him for 94 million euros at a world-record transfer fee, at that time. For Real Madrid and Portuguese fans alike; Ronaldo became a walking icon and a household name. He represented Portugal in 2006 and 2010 World Cups and 2014 will be his third. He was also in limelight during UEFA Euro 2004, 2008 and 2012. In 2008, Ronaldo was named FIFA’s World Player of the year. In 2010, this award was merged with FIFA Ballon d’Or.

For any footballer, the FIFA Ballon d’or is the most cherished award. FIFA has laid down a strict voting procedure to ensure that only the best footballer is chosen for the honor. Regardless, the criterion for  Ballon d’Or is an intensely debated topic amongst football experts and media-persons. In order to clear the air, FIFA has chosen to explain the method in detail. Some salient features are;

  • A shortlist of 23 male players is announced in October every year, and it is drawn up by members of FIFA’s Football Committee with a penal of experts from France Football. A similar shortlist for 10 female players is also compiled by a FIFA’s Women’s Committee.
  • Voting is open to national-team coaches, national-team captains and selected journalists from around the world. An electronic system is used for totaling, under the watchful eyes of a public notary. There is a deadline, by which Coaches, captains and selected journalists must make their choice. For example, for 2013, November 15 was the cut-off date, which later got extended to November 29. This year, 184 national-team coaches, 184 national-team captains and 173 media representatives voted for FIFA Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo got 1365 points, followed by Lionel Messi’s 1205 and Franck Ribery’s 1127 points.
  • To ensure fairness and integrity, FIFA and France Football have authorized PricewaterhouseCoopers Switzerland (PwC), as independent observer. PwC supervises and monitors the award procedures and keeps the records and results under lock and key, until the evening of the announcement.

It is noteworthy that between 2008 and 2013, only two male footballers have been awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or. While Cristiano Ronaldo has won it in 2008 and 2013, Lionel Messi won it for four consecutive years in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

While one performance criterion for footballers is certainly the number of goals scored, there are several other factors on which performance is measured. Messi’s 45 goals were higher than CR7’ 34 in 2013, but his overall form, winning percentage and time spent in matches could have accounted for higher votes. As per FIFA guidelines, one can also emerge a winner without scoring a single goal. Germany’s woman footballer, 35-year old Nadine Angerer was named winner of Ballon d’Or for 2013 for playing a pivotal individual role in her team’s major victories. A woman with nerves of steel, Angerer amply demonstrated her skills in Germany’s 2007 World Cup win against Brazil. But Angerer is not allowed to score because she is a goalkeeper.