At last, he's No. 1
IT HAS taken Cristiano Ronaldo a long time to be back on top of the world.
Since winning the Ballon d'Or for the first time after leading Manchester United to Champions League glory in 2008, he has been relegated to second place in three of the last four years as Barcelona's Lionel Messi won the award for an unprecedented four consecutive times.
On Monday, however, he was finally crowned World Player of the Year for a second time as he beat Messi and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery to football's highest individual award.
By swopping Manchester for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, Ronaldo accepted the challenge of constant comparisons with Messi. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, though, his marriage with the world's richest club wasn't as perfect initially as he had envisaged.
Barca and Messi's dominance has continued as they racked up 12 trophies to Madrid and Ronaldo's three since he moved to Spain. The Catalans were once again superior on a collective level last year as they sealed their 22nd league title with a club-record 100 points.
However, with Messi's year having been blighted by injuries, the last 12 months did signal a change on the individual front for Ronaldo.
Despite his remarkable goalscoring record, Ronaldo wasn't always greeted with the hero's worship he thought he deserved from Real fans, who thought he was running down his contract.
He quashed all that talk in September by extending his deal with the club until 2018, a contract which also made him the world's best-paid player.
And the backing he now receives was most visibly displayed when thousands of fans donned masks of their hero in support of his bid to win the Ballon d'Or following incendiary comments from Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
Blatter had described Ronaldo as a "commander", given his serious nature on the field and said he personally preferred Messi's more humble image. The Swiss national's words, though, only seemed to fan the flames of Ronaldo's already-sensational form as he went on to score 15 times in his next eight matches.
Most importantly in that run, he ensured Portugal wouldn't miss out on this year's World Cup in Brazil by scoring all four of his country's goals in their 4-2 aggregate play-off win over Sweden.
Ronaldo's individual brilliance cannot be overlooked. His 66 goals in 56 games for club and country was more than Messi and Ribery's combined total of 65.
Ronaldo also led the way in the most demanding environment of all, the Champions League, finishing as last season's top scorer and becoming the first man to score nine times in just five group games this season.
At the age of 28, this is a more mature Ronaldo than the one who won the Ballon d'Or five years ago: A captain and star that, as he showed that night in Stockholm, takes responsibility and leads by example.
A maturation process that has finally seen him topple Messi as the world's best.