Early Doors

How newly-lovable Ronaldo won more than just the Ballon d’Or

Ever since he burst into English football in the 2003-04 season, Cristiano Ronaldo has divided opinion.

Exquisitely talented? Yes. A phenomenal physical specimen, blessed with imposing physical size, incredible speed and outrageous gifts of coordination? Yes.

But for years, the admiration of those qualities was played against the negative perceptions of his character. He positively drips with arrogance, and his competitive nature can give way to a distinctly nasty streak - demonstrated most memorably in the 2006 World Cup, when he appeared to wink at the Portugal bench after successfully begging the referee to send his United team-mate Wayne Rooney off.

In other words: he might be a great footballer, but he always came across as a bit of git.

That was until Monday night, when he was awarded the Ballon d'Or that proclaimed him FIFA's World Footballer of the Year - and he showed a very different side.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Instead of the smug, preening, grotesquely Brylcreemed and tango-hued living waxwork we were expecting, up stepped a very different human. Ronaldo had been transformed into a humble, grateful team-mate; a teary-eyed, proud father; a faithful, attentive partner to a long-term other half.

Cristano Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo Jr, and Irina Shayk

"It's a tremendously emotional moment," said the 28-year-old after thanking all the people in his life in glowing terms, and in a moment changing his public perception more than he can possibly have imagined.

Cristiano Ronaldo Jr delighted fans, as well as Pele and Sepp Blatter

There was no doubt that Ronaldo was the world's best footballer in 2013 - there was never any real chance of anyone else winning the award.

And while nobody begrudged it to him - other than the most rabid fans of Franck Ribery or Lionel Messi - there was a certain coldness in our collective expectation of the announcement on Monday night.

Barcelona and Argentina star Messi, by contrast, had charmed us for years with his humility and evident good nature as he collected four consecutive awards - despite the occasional report suggesting that his "nice guy" image really is a bit too good to be true.

But Ronaldo? We were ready to admire him, and respect him - but not love him, as we had Messi.

Yet as he showed his warmer, nicer, more human side, Ronaldo changed all those perceptions. It's early days for the player and his new image, but with a World Cup looming we could yet see the world's best footballer become the world's best-loved footballer.

And if he manages that, he'll have won something far more important than the Ballon d'Or.

Cristiano Ronaldo in tears