Cristiano Ronaldo paid tribute to the early influence of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand after winning his fifth Ballon d’Or in Paris on Thursday.
The Portuguese beat Lionel Messi to the honour after playing a central role in Real Madrid’s sensational double under Zinedine Zidane last season.
He has now won the honour as many times as Messi having also also claimed the award in 2016, 2014, 2013 and 2018.
And Ronaldo, speaking to David Ginola soon after winning the award at the Eiffel Tower, was quick to point towards Van Nistelrooy and Ferdinand as early motivating forces for him when he started out at Old Trafford back in 2003.
“I was different from the other kids,” he said.
“But when I noticed I was really good, I was in (Manchester) United. Then I was with other great players. Van Nistelrooy, Ferdinand.
“In the first season I thought of dedicating myself even more to guarantee the second Golden Ball.”
Now, just to be clear: the whole Ballon d’Or gimmick is not an accurate barometer for footballing achievement. Neither Pele or Diego Maradona were given the honour, and the event itself, if you watch it in full, feels more like a mixture of an obscure dystopian popularity contest and an advert.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from what Ronaldo has achieved, and how stunning it is to see him still ruthlessly asserting himself at the top after so many years.
He can be rightfully regarded as the greatest athlete this sport has ever seen. While Messi belongs to another planet, Ronaldo was born here and decided, pretty much from day one, that he was going to be the best.