by EMMANUEL EKOW FIRMER AMPIAH
DEBATE: WHO WINS UEFA EUROPEAN BEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
On the 30th of August, 2012, the UEFA best player for 2011/2012 will be announced. The finalists are Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona duo, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. Three analysts will make a case for each player: Achere Buxton (Andres Iniesta), Emmanuel Ekow Firmer Ampiah (Cristiano Ronaldo) and Emil Alcantara Alexis (Lionel Messi).
According to UEFA.com, the UEFA Best Player in Europe award “recognise[s] the best player, irrespective of his nationality, playing for a football club within the territory of a UEFA member association during the previous season.” Players are judged by their performances in all competitions, domestic and international, and at club and national team levels throughout the season.The nominees for this year’s award are Lionel Messi (current holder), Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo. The European footballer of the year award is awarded to the player who has excelled in UEFA’s elite competitions in the 2011/2012 season thus the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Euro competitions as well as top performers in the top European Leagues. Only one player has stood tall in all the aforementioned competitions. Take a bow, CRISTIANO RONALDO.
The Portuguese winger was arguably the key protagonist who secured Real Madrid’s 32nd La Liga crown. Ronaldo scored against all 19 opponents in La Liga including 23 goals away from home. He also tore the conspiracy theorists’ scripts by performing in big games in the La Liga, notably his 73rd minute strike at the Camp Nou that invariably won the La Liga for Real Madrid. In a tight league game against Rayo Vallecano at the Campos de Vallecas, Real Madrid was destined to draw before the former Manchester United player improvised an audacious back heeled goal that ensured a 1-0 win for the men in white. Goals in the Madrid derby (against Atletico Madrid) as well as other highly important goals such as against Real Betis and a hat-trick against Sevilla characterised his season. In 38 league games, Ronaldo scored 46 goals, four shy of the Pichichi winner, Lionel Messi who scored half a century of goals but Ronaldo still remains the only player to score 40 league goals consecutively and also holds the singular honour of becoming the fastest La Liga player to score 100 goals in just 92 games. The 6ft 1 in forward provided 12 assists in La Liga meaning he contributed to a total of 58 goals (46 goals plus 12 assists) out of the 121 record number of goals Los Blancos scored in the season under retrospect. At the end of the 2011/2012 season, Ronaldo was presented with the Alfredo di Stefano trophy which translates into Best Player in the La Liga, an accolade well-deserved.
In the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo was again on hand to carry Real Madrid to the top. In the 2010/2011 Champions League season, Madrid suffered the agony of losing out to eternal rivals, Barcelona in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite league football. The shrill cries of “La Decima” all around Spain’s capital in the 2011/2012 season resounded in the ears of Jose Mourinho and his cohorts. Ronaldo responded with 10 goals in 10 Champions League games as well as 3 assists but Bayern Munich was on hand to stop The Whites from tasting Champions League success. Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance in the group stages cannot be overestimated as he guided Real Madrid to top the group with a 100 per cent record (garnering the maximum 18 points) including a master class performance against Olympique Lyonnais where he scored a trademark free kick. 3 goals from Cristiano Ronaldo against tricky Russian opponents, CSKA Moscow helped the nine-time European Champions to a 5-2 aggregrate win. Madrid progressed to the quarter final stage to face Cypriot dark horses, Apoel Nicosia. Ronaldo’s inspiration was much needed as his two goals helped Madrid post an 8-2 agregrate win. In the semi-final stage, Madrid was pitted against their long time European rivals, Bayern Munich but Ronaldo was unfazed by the might of the German record champions as he assisted Mesut Ozil at the Allianz Arena for Madrid’s only goal of that game and also scored twice in the return encounter at the Bernabeu but was not enough as Madrid was bundled out of Europe via post match penalty kicks.
Cristiano Ronaldo has always been slated for his poor showing for his country, Portugal. The Euro 2012 was therefore a true barometer to test Ronaldo’s mettle. Ronaldo’s Portugal was dumped in Group B, obviously the group of death that housed other European powerhouses such as Denmark, Holland and Germany. Ronaldo and his Portuguese team mates were expected back in Lisbon after the group stages but Ronaldo had other ideas. The Madeira-born forward captained his side to second place finish in the group of death. In the decisive group game against Holland, Ronaldo rose to the occasion as a master class all-round performance was rewarded with two goals and Man of the Match gong. In a tight quarter-final game against a resilient Czech Republic side, Ronaldo was the difference between the two sides as his powerful header set up a semi-final date against Iberian neighbours, Spain. He was again named Man of the Match in that quarter-final game. Portugal eventually bowed out of the competition after losing on penalties to eventual winners of the competition, Spain. Ronaldo was named in the team of the tournament as well as earned the joint top scorer award with 3 goals. After scoring in the 2012 Euro competition, Ronaldo has now scored in every single major competition for Portugal.
In compendium, I’ll say Lionel Messi was exciting in the Champions League, Andres Iniesta was mesmerising during the Euro 2012 but I’ll say Ronaldo performed creditably in all the above competitions as well as the La Liga, therefore overly satisfied UEFA’s benchmark for selecting the UEFA Best Player in Europe award; 60 goals in 54 games alongside 15 assists is testament to the winger’s hardwork and dedication in the 2011/2012 season. The left wing forward also showed he could score all kind of goals. 26 of his goals with his right foot, 9 with his left foot, 7 headers and 4 free kicks. He was a nightmare for opposition defenders. His pacy runs, variety of goals (back heel, long range goals, mid-range goals, chips, volleys) classy step-overs, dribbling technique, performance in big games, dangerous free kicks and his role as a team member made him the best player in Europe last season. Cristiano Ronaldo has undoubtedly abided in the shadows of his nemesis, Lionel Messi for some time now but this year is obviously the time for the former World Best to bask in some glory. The 53 journalists who’ll decide the fate of the best player award will do the footballing community a great favour of Cristiano Ronaldo mounts the podium all smiles on the 30th of August to receive his award as the UEFA Best Player in Europe. It will be an epic victory for football purists.