Ronaldo poised to bag 4th Ballon d'Or

PARIS • This evening, in Paris, a poorly kept secret will be out officially - Cristiano Ronaldo will be crowned the world's top footballer for the fourth time.

The Real Madrid and Portugal forward won the Champions League for the second time in three seasons and third time overall after one title with Manchester United in 2008.

He then led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016 - notwithstanding that he went off early through injury in the win over France.

As has been the case for almost a decade, the 31-year-old's main rival for the Ballon d'Or will be Lionel Messi of Barcelona but the Argentinian forward has had - by his own exalted standards - a less than stellar year both for club and country, with the top prizes eluding him on both fronts.

Ronaldo was spotted midweek in training, having dyed his hair gold in advance.

For his club coach, there can be only one man for the crown this year.

"For me, there is no debate. The Ballon d'Or will be for him," Zinedine Zidane said. "He showed it last season and he shows it again and again. We expect a lot of him but he stands above everyone."

Despite such effusive praise, Ronaldo, rested at the weekend ahead of the Club World Cup in Japan, has had some negative headlines - not least pertaining to accusations of tax evasion.

Denying any wrongdoing, he responded by publishing his financial records on Thursday - showing that he earned a bumper €227.2 million (S$343.2 million) last year.

An international consortium of media organisations had claimed that he hid €150 million from image rights in the British Virgin Islands.

This year marks the end of six years of joint awards by founders France Football and Fifa, which will revert to bestowing a "Best" accolade of its own on Jan 9 to both male and female players.

The Ballon d'Or will henceforth be decided by a vote of 173 journalists while national team captains and managers will no longer have a say.

Messi landed a record fifth crown last year. A win will lift Ronaldo to four.

Ronaldo first won the award in 2008 after Premier League and Champions League triumphs with Manchester United.

But it was only in 2013 that he added his second and he made it a hat-trick the following year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Ronaldo poised to bag 4th Ballon d'Or'. Print Edition | Subscribe