PARIS (Reuters) - Cristiano Ronaldo capped a remarkable year by claiming a fourth Ballon d’Or award on Monday after leading Portugal to an emotional European Championship title and Real Madrid to a record-extending Champions League crown in 2016.
Ronaldo is one short of the record tally of five awards won by Barcelona’s Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who was second with the pair having taken the first two spots since 2011.
“For me it’s a great honor to receive my fourth golden ball. The emotion is like for the first one, it’s a dream come true again. I never thought in my mind to win four times. I’m so happy,” said Ronaldo, who won the award in 2008, 2013 and 2014.
“It’s probably the best year of my career collectively, with Real Madrid and Portugal.
“Real are used to winning titles while Portugal had never won a major title so this (Euro 2016) title is special. I don’t want to lack respect to the Champions League but the title with Portugal is a level above.”
The Ballon d’Or, which merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2010-15 to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or, returned to France Football magazine this year.
A total of 173 journalists voted but not national team coaches and captains who were also polled for the FIFA award.
France and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann, who lost to Ronaldo’s Portugal and Real in the Euro 2016 and Champions League finals respectively, took third place.
Uruguay forward Luis Suarez was fourth and Brazil’s Neymar fifth, giving Barcelona three players in the top five.
Ronaldo was a cut above the competition, though.
He scored 51 goals in 54 games for club and country, albeit his lowest tally since 2008, claimed another Champions League winners’ medal and lifted the European Championship trophy.
Ronaldo limped off midway through the first half of July’s Euro 2016 final, which Portugal won 1-0 after extra time against hosts France, but he hobbled back onto the pitch to celebrate his country’s first major soccer title.
Six weeks earlier, after a fairly anonymous performance against local rivals Atletico in the Champions League final, he scored the decisive penalty in the shootout to hand Real their 11th European Cup.
It was, therefore, hard to see past 31-year-old Ronaldo for the winner of the Ballon d’Or, even if the trophy is designed to reward individual performance rather than team results.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris