Capping what he called the best year of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday won his fourth FIFA Best Player award.
The double European champion with Portugal and Real Madrid beat great rival Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to complete a sweep of top individual awards.
“It was a year that was magnificent at a personal level and at a sporting level,” the 31-year-old Ronaldo said in his acceptance speech, which he began by exclaiming: “Wow, wow, wow.”
Ronaldo’s fourth career FIFA award closed the gap on five-time winner Messi, who has been the runner-up to each Ronaldo victory.
His 34.54 percent of total votes in a 23-candidate ballot was clearly better than Messi’s 26.42 percent. Griezmann got 7.53 percent.
Voting was by national team captains and coaches, selected media and fans online.
Messi did not attend after being pulled out hours before the ceremony by his club Barcelona to prepare for a Copa del Rey match today.
“Of course, I wish that they [Barcelona players] had been here tonight like in the other years. We have to respect the decision,” Ronaldo said.
Yet again, Ronaldo and Messi snubbed each other on the ballot papers they got as captains of Portugal and Argentina. Ronaldo selected three Real Madrid teammates headed by Gareth Bale, while Messi picked Luis Suarez at the top of an all-Barcelona ballot.
Ronaldo’s trophy haul last year included Euro 2016, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, plus individual best player awards from UEFA and France Football magazine.
“I won a lot trophies, collective and individual, so I am proud,” said Ronaldo, adding he would send the inaugural silver FIFA Best trophy to the museum dedicated to his career on his home island, Madeira.
Messi’s Barcelona won the La Liga and Copa del Rey double last year, although Argentina lost another Copa America final. Griezmann’s France and Atletico Madrid lost their finals to Ronaldo’s teams.
Ronaldo’s mentors for club and nation were beaten to the coaching award by Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri, who earned the prize for a stunning English Premier League title-winning campaign.
“What happened last year was something strange. The god of football said Leicester must win,” said Ranieri, who was in his first season at the unfashionable club widely tipped for relegation.
Ranieri rose from his seat and politely shook hands with his two opponents, Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane and Portugal’s Fernando Santos, plus their partners, before heading to the stage.
The 65-year-old Italian collected his trophy from Diego Maradona, who earlier on Monday played in an exhibition match with other retired greats at FIFA headquarters.
Carli Lloyd of the US won a FIFA player prize for the second straight year, despite a quarter-final exit at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
With gold-medal winner Melanie Behringer of Germany in third place, Lloyd got more than 20 percent of the vote and five-time winner Marta of Brazil was runner-up with 16.6 percent. Behringer got 12.34 percent.
“I honestly was not expecting this,” Lloyd said. “I know Melanie did fantastic in the Olympics.”
Germany did win the women’s coaching prize, with Silvia Neid earning her second FIFA prize after winning the 2010 award. Neid beat two previous winners: last year’s winner, Jill Ellis of the US, and Pia Sundhage of Sweden, the Olympic silver medalist.