The debate over who’s better – Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, might go on for quite some time, but when it comes to official individual awards, it’s pretty much a knockout win with no room for discussion.

There was no camera pointing to Cristiano Ronaldo’s face the moment Lionel Messi was announced as the winner for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or. You can guess he was doing his best to seem unmoved, unlike the little scowl he was giving after hearing that Andres Iniesta of all people is the UEFA player of the year just a few months ago.

For the third time in four years, Cristiano Ronaldo finishes behind Lionel Messi in the most prestigious award ceremony in football. I don’t think there’s a single great player that doesn’t think of himself as the best player out there, but when everyone tells you it’s someone else, four years in a row, it has to have some effect, doesn’t it?

Somehow, Ronaldo supporters and probably Ronaldo himself, just a bit, managed to gather up enough belief that this time it’ll be different. Maybe the lobbying from certain journalists (like his pal from CNN) and obviously the man who shouts and says provocative things only to be heard, Jose Mourinho, was supposed to improve his chances against a player many are growing tired of hearing praises about.

Still, Lionel Messi is a much more popular figure just by not being controversial like Ronaldo. Those who “hate” Messi are usually Real Madrid fans. When it comes to the neutrals, regardless of the ability, Messi always comes ahead of Cristiano. He might not be as interesting as him, but he doesn’t create negative sentiments most of the time.

All this talk about team awards and giving the award to someone else from a chance are just diversions from the truth. Lionel Messi has been the best player in the world from the moment Pep Guardiola became the head coach of Barcelona. Maybe it has a lot to do with the teammates he’s playing with, but it’s impossible to dissect and individual and analyze him while ignoring his surroundings, not in football.

Those preaching the “Messi playes with the best players in the world” forget that Cristiano Ronaldo is a Real Madrid player for his fourth season now, playing with a few accomplished players as well. His style is a little less team-oriented than Barcelona, but that doesn’t make him a better player.

Winning the La Liga doesn’t give you automatic rights to the trophy. Winning the Pichichi doesn’t give you the rights to the Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo has won both in separate years, and lost to Messi in the awards category at the end of the season. Not because of some default option, but because Messi was the better player in both seasons. The impressive numbers from the past year were only some sort of exclamation mark on his dominance, not the whole story.

There’s always next year, but Ronaldo himself has said he might be losing in these award ceremonies because of the way he acts on the pitch. Maybe off of it as well. But he cares about these things, almost as much as he cares about winning league titles and European trophies. As times goes by, chances of him winning another one are getting smaller and smaller.

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