Revisiting the 2011 Ballon d'Or: When Cristiano Ronaldo made a solid case for the award
Throughout history, numerous awards and accolades have been created to reward individual brilliance in football, but none is held in higher esteem than the Ballon d'Or.
Conceived by sports writer Gabriel Hanot (the same man who introduced the Champions League), the Ballon d'Or is handed out to the player adjudged to have been the best in the preceding year and was awarded for the first time in 1956.
Stanley 'The Wizard of the Dribble' Matthews was the inaugural winner of the award and since then, 43 other men including some of the greatest in history have won the same.
Between 1956 and 1994, the Ballon d'Or was open to only European footballers plying their trade in Europe and this denied some true greats of the game like Diego Maradona, Pele, and Zico from winning it.
However, it became open to all players from all nationalities in 1995 (provided they were playing in Europe) and former AC Milan star and current Liberian president, George Weah, was named as the first non-European winner of the award in December 1995.
Further expansion to the eligibility came in 2007 when all players in the world regardless of nationality or where they are plying their trade became eligible, although it is pertinent to note that no player outside of Europe has ever made it to the podium.
Following his wins in 2009 and 2010, Lionel Messi made it a Ballon d'Or three-peat when he was named as the world's best player in 2011, making him only the second player after the great Michel Platini to achieve this unique feat.
Here, in continuation of our series highlighting players who deserved to win the Ballon d'Or between 2008 and 2018, we shall be making a case for why Cristiano Ronaldo should have been named the Ballon d'Or winner in 2011.
2011 Ballon d'Or winner - Lionel Messi
Barcelona won the Champions League for the fourth time in their history in 2011, and Messi was the major driving force behind their European conquest, scoring 12 goals from 13 matches in the competition.
He was also instrumental in the Catalans' winning LaLiga for the third consecutive season, and had a hand in 49 goals (31 goals, 18 assists) for the Blaugrana.
On the international scene, he however floundered and was scapegoated for Argentina's woeful performance at the 2011 Copa America on home soil.
Messi failed to replicate his club form in national colours and did not score a goal in South America's premier competition and was booed by his compatriots in an ultimately disastrous Copa America campaign.
For his efforts with Barcelona, Lionel Messi was named the 2011 Ballon d'Or winner, polling 47.88% of the votes, while Cristiano Ronaldo (21.60%) and Xavi Hernandez (9.23%) completed the podium.
The case for Cristiano Ronaldo to have been named the 2011 Ballon d'Or winner
Cristiano Ronaldo arrived Real Madrid from Manchester United in the summer of 2009 for a world record fee although he could not stop Los Blancos from ending the campaign trophyless.
The following term, the Portuguese international upped his scoring game and had the first of six consecutive 50-goal campaigns when he scored 53 goals from just 54 matches in all competitions.
Incidentally, this was the same total posted by Lionel Messi that year, but Ronaldo did so in one game fewer.
In LaLiga, the Madeira native starred with 40 goals and 13 assists from just 34 games, making him the first player in the history of the Spanish top-flight to score 40 goals in a single season.
This saw him win the Pichichi as the top scorer in the league, while he also won the second of his four European Golden Shoes.
Ronaldo's record-breaking feat in LaLiga that season encompassed numerous records, and he ended the campaign with six hat-tricks (of which two were four-goal hauls). He also had a hand in a staggering six goals in the 8-2 defeat over Almeria on the final day (scoring two and assisting four).
In the Champions League, he weighed in with six goals and four assists from 12 matches although Real Madrid's European sojourn was ended at the semifinal stage by Barcelona.
It was, however, in the domestic cup competition where Ronaldo's greatest contributions came.
He scored six goals from seven games in the Copa del Rey to help Los Blancos qualify for the final, and made the decisive contribution in the showpiece event against Barcelona; rising highest to head home a Di Maria cross in the 103rd minute to grant Real Madrid victory over their eternal rivals at the Estadio Mestalla.
This came as a form of revenge for the capital club, as they had been eliminated from the continent by the Blaugrana just days earlier.
Ronaldo's goal to help Real Madrid win the Copa del Rey in 2011 was significant on many counts.
For starters, it saw them lift their first domestic cup title since 1994 and their first trophy of any kind in three years.
Perhaps more importantly, it helped Real Madrid break the hegemony the Blaugrana had on the domestic game in Spain.
Before this Copa final clash, Real Madrid had failed to defeat Barcelona in their last eight El Clasico fixtures and had been on the receiving end of some embarrassing scorelines including 5-0 and 6-2 defeats.
We were in the middle of what was to become the most defining era in their illustrious history and had Real Madrid failed to beat them in Valencia, they would have won a second treble in the space of two years.
As it happened, Ronaldo's towering header delayed them from writing their name in the record books, while also helping Real Madrid demystify Barcelona.
All of the successes enjoyed by Los Blancos in the intervening years can be traced back to that header, as it gave them belief that Barcelona could be defeated, and the very next season, they thumped the Catalans to the league title for the first time in four years.
What followed was the most dominant continental performance in the modern history of the Champions League, and Real Madrid's unprecedented conquest in Europe had the Copa win in 2011 as its catalyst.
His impressive display was also not limited to the club scene, as while Lionel Messi struggled with Argentina on home soil, Ronaldo soared with his nation and scored seven goals during qualification for Euro 2012 (five of which came in 2011).
Lionel Messi might have been ultimately more successful than Ronaldo in 2011, but it is pertinent to note that the Rosario native had been in a highly functional system for almost two decades, and his successes in that year were just a reflection of the incredible team Barcelona had within that period.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, was the prized gem of a highly gifted but massively underperforming squad of players who simply could not keep up with Barcelona.
They would, however, rise from these initial setbacks to produce some of the greatest performances ever seen in recent European footballing history, and it all started with the belief given to them by Ronaldo's match-winning header in Valencia.
Lionel Messi was a deserving winner of the 2011 Ballon d'Or, but in the grand scheme of things, Ronaldo made more decisive contributions that year, and for that reason, he should have been named the Ballon d'Or winner.