x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ronaldo tells Dubai audience his choice for Ballon d’Or award

The Real Madrid superstar is candid about his chances and yet holds the stage in Dubai with the same composure as on the field.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo shakes hand with a handicapped young Emirati during the first session of the eighth Dubai International Sports Conference. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo shakes hand with a handicapped young Emirati during the first session of the eighth Dubai International Sports Conference. Marwan Naamani / AFP

DUBAI // It might come as little surprise to learn that Cristiano Ronaldo’s favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo.

At the Dubai International Sports Conference today, the Real Madrid forward – often guilty of narcissism; more often guilty of stupendous goalscoring – was quizzed by a trio of children from the Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre and answered in good English, good spirits and good humour.

Making his second appearance in three years at the annual event, Ronaldo was asked by one of the youngsters to identify his favourite current footballer.

The Portuguese is nominated alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich for Fifa’s Ballon d’Or, and such is his reputation and unashamed self-confidence that none of the 1,000 people crammed into Madinat Jumeirah expected him to name-check either of his rivals.

Even so, when he started his reply with “Well, apart from me...”, there was a moment of stilted laughter before he added, “I joke, of course”.

Yet the joke proved more genuine than the subsequent answer, which saw him sidestep the issue with all the composure he displays on the pitch. “I don’t have a specific player that I like,” Ronaldo said.

“In Europe and in the world, we have a lot of fantastic players. To mention one would not be fair on my part. I enjoy playing with great players at Real Madrid and when I play against other teams, I always enjoy that also.”

Pierluigi Collina, the famously follically-challenged former referee, was able to extract a little more insight from the former Manchester United winger when it came to the latter’s expectations ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

Ronaldo scored four times in two play-off games to help Portugal qualify for Brazil, where they will face Germany, Ghana and the US. He has netted 69 times this calendar year and, should he maintain such high levels of performance, his country will provide a serious challenge to any opposition.

“We know it will be difficult,” he said. “We are not the favourites, but that can be good and remove some pressure. We lost on penalties to Spain last time [at Euro 2012], and everybody knows that is a lottery, so maybe this time we will be luckier. ”

First though comes the Ballon d’Or, where luck should not figure. The winner will be announced on January 13, and when Collina suggested in jest that he was going to press Ronaldo on the subject, the 2008 winner stiffly stated that “now is not a great moment to speak”.

This time he was not joking: Messi has won it for the past four years, but this year Ronaldo is favourite.

And not just his own favourite.

gmeenaghan@thenational.aea

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