Cristiano Ronaldo has been officially named as the winner of the 2016 Ballon d'Or award. The Real Madrid superstar saw off competition from perennial Barcelona rival Lionel Messi and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Greizmann to scoop football's most prestigious individual prize for the fourth time in his illustrious career.
Such a result certainly did not come as a surprise, with a recent leak appearing to confirm Ronaldo's victory. The 31-year-old has enjoyed a stellar year even by his ridiculously high standards, scoring 16 goals in 12 matches as Real reigned supreme over Europe for the 11th time courtesy of a Champions League final victory over cross-city rivals Atletico in Milan. Never one to shirk the limelight – despite an ineffective performance in the first 120 minutes – he dispatched the winning spot-kick in a penalty shootout after Juanfran had struck the post.
It was the third time that the Champions League's all-time leading goal-getter has won the competition, and the fourth campaign in a row that he topped the scoring charts. Things then got even better in the summer when Ronaldo notched three times and captained Portugal to their maiden major tournament victory at Euro 2016.
He was substituted in tears just 25 minutes into the final defeat of hosts France after injuring his knee, but still played a prominent part in the subsequent celebrations and was unsurprisingly named in Uefa's Team of the Tournament.
Ronaldo was not present at Monday night's ceremony in Paris as he recently flew to Japan, where Real Madrid face Mexican outfit Club America in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup on Thursday morning (15 December).
"I never thought in my mind that I would win the Golden Ball four times. I am pleased. I feel so proud and happy," he said after collecting his prize earlier this week. "I have the opportunity to thank all of my teammates, the national team, Real Madrid, all of the people and players who helped me to win this individual award."
Ronaldo's victory over Messi means that he now trails his old rival by one in the Ballon d'Or stakes. The Argentine won the award for a record fifth time in January, but was unable to retain it despite leading Barcelona to a La Liga/Copa del Rey double. He also overtook Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina's top scorer in June and temporarily retired from international football after the beaten 2014 World Cup finalists lost out on the Copa America title to Chile for the second successive year.
The European Ballon d'Or and Fifa World Player of the Year awards were merged in 2010, but that partnership ended earlier this year as bi-weekly magazine France Football reassumed control of the former. Subsequent changes to the process included 173 international journalists voting alone, with national team managers and captains no longer required to contribute. The previous 23-man tally of nominees was beefed up to 30 and the announcement of the winner was brought forward from January to December with no more final three-man shortlist.
France Football counted down the shortlist in descending order from 17th during a drawn-out process that bizarrely saw them skip from sixth straight to number one and then back again, with 11 players – Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Hugo Lloris, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Ramos, Diego Godin, Gonzalo Higuain, Andres Iniesta, Koke, Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer – failing to garner a single vote. England striker Jamie Vardy finished above the likes of Luka Modric, Robert Lewandowski, Paul Pogba and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in eighth following his fairytale title-winning exploits with Leicester City, while influential Foxes teammate Riyad Mahrez ranked one spot higher.
La Liga dominated the top six, with Ronaldo, Messi and Euro 2016 Golden Boot winner Griezmann joined by Luis Suarez, Olympic gold medallist Neymar and Wales hero Gareth Bale.
Final 2016 Ballon d'Or rankings
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
2. Lionel Messi
3. Antoine Griezmann
4. Luis Suarez
6. Gareth Bale
7. Riyad Mahrez
8. Jamie Vardy
9 = Gianluigi Buffon, Pepe
11. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
12. Rui Patricio
13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
14 = Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal
16. Robert Lewandowski
17 = Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Dimitri Payet