English football embarrassed by lack of presence in awards, as Real Madrid's finest is moved to tears as he lifts the 2013 Ballon d'Or.
Holding the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player after a tearful ceremony in Zurich, Ronaldo spoke of conversations with his “old friend” at a time when United were considering a bid for the star they sold to Spain in 2009 for £80 million.
Former neighbours in Cheshire, Ronaldo and Ferdinand were apparently speaking as mates, but the new world No 1 said that Ferdinand tried to “change my mind” about staying at the Bernabéu.
United’s hopes of repatriating him were always slim. The club’s fans, though, will dearly wish that an outside chance had been turned into a homecoming. The world Ronaldo left – the Premier League – again failed to force a single player into last year’s World XI.
Ronaldo said after he had beaten Lionel Messi and Franck Ribéry in the ballot for the Ballon d’Or: “It was true that Rio spoke to me a lot. Rio is a great friend of mine, we played many years together at Manchester United and we were neighbours when I was there in Manchester.
"He’s a fantastic guy and tried to change my mind. I did think about United. They are still in my heart. It’s a club where I played for six years and I love that club. I have a lot of friends there and I wish them the best.”
Halting Messi’s run of four consecutive wins is likely to make Ronaldo feel more settled in Madrid. Anyone who thinks the Ballon d’Or is a hollow prize meanwhile should have seen him crying on stage as he collected the golden orb for the first time since 2008, when United won the Champions League in Moscow.
The other winner who needed a hankie to dab his eyes was Pele, who collected the inaugural Prix D’Honneur. Explaining his tearfulness, Pele said: “I was jealous of all of those guys who got the Ballon d’Or, which I couldn’t get because I didn’t play in Europe.”
To see Ronaldo and Pele both overwhelmed offered an insight into the pressure great players place on themselves to reach the pinnacle. And stay there.
Ronaldo said of Pele: “He was a legend of football and to be mentioned next to him for the Golden Ball was an unbelievable feeling.
“I can’t expect a better night than this one ever in my dreams. I have to be proud of my work and what I did during the year. This is going to give me the motivation to work more and dedicate myself more in the future to try and win the third one next season.”
In rampaging form throughout 2013, Ronaldo beat Messi without winning a single trophy. Ribéry, who won five, could not break the six-year Messi-Ronaldo duopoly.
“I’m going to try to do my best to win trophies with Madrid and my country,” Ronaldo said.
“This season is a challenge for me. Last year was amazing. It was very intense. I scored so many goals, 69 for Real Madrid and helped my national team to go through to the World Cup.
“This gives me motivation to work more and be better for the future. It means a lot to me that I won it after Eusebio’s passing.
"I dedicate this award to him and to my team-mates. It is for Eusebio, my team-mates, all those people who like me. It was a special night and of course Eusebio passed away but he was watching from the skies to see this great moment for a Portuguese player.”
Ronaldo tends to wear a mask of detachment, of hostility, sometimes, but this time it fell away to reveal all the frustration that has built up in him at being No 2 to Messi.
He said: “I couldn’t contain my tears. It was a unique moment for me to win this trophy. When I heard my name I didn’t think anything, a huge emotion came over me and I started to cry. I took my son’s hand and went on stage. I was extremely happy.”
The English candidates were Leighton Baines and Ashley Cole at left-back, Steven Gerrard in midfield and Wayne Rooney up front, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic was chosen alongside Messi and Ronaldo.
Although Luis Suárez is blazing a path into next year’s team, he would probably need to be in Champions League action to fully catch the world’s attention. For now, though, the German and Spanish leagues especially have snuffed out England’s claim to be the home of football’s best league. For entertainment and controversy, maybe, but not on individual talent.
The all-star team for 2013 is: Manuel Neuer; Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, Philipp Lahm; Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Ribéry; Ronaldo, Messi, Ibrahimovic.
Of these only the unashamedly aggressive Ramos looks out of place. Not until the Iniesta-Xavi axis is broken will the midfield places open up, and Messi and Ronaldo could be automatic picks for years to come.
Earlier the pair acknowledged the debt they share in driving each other on.
“Yes of course, that’s obvious. It’s important because we players have an idea of who’s good, and for us it’s a source of pride to play against great players like Messi and Ribéry,” Ronaldo said.
“And since I’m a very competitive person and like playing against the best it’s a privilege to play against them both for my club and my national team.
“Have we improved each other? Maybe that’s the case. It’s good for me, for us and for football.”
Messi repaid the compliment: “Yes, I agree with what you said. Over and above the fact that I play for Barcelona and they play for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich [Ribéry] I know they’re exceptional players.”
Ronaldo also made peace with Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, who told the Oxford Union in October that he preferred Messi and said that Ronaldo “spends more time at the hairdresser”.
“This topic is no longer an issue. We talked over the telephone, everything was cleared. It’s no longer an issue either for us or football,” Ronaldo said.
Fifa was forced to defend the extension of the voting deadline by two weeks, claiming that only 50 per cent of voters had responded by the first closing date in November. This rose to 88 per cent. Football’s governing body denies the result was affected.
In the coaching category, Sir Alex Ferguson was on a family holiday in Barbados and missed out to Jupp Heynckes, the former Bayern manager who won the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup before Pep Guardiola took over.
Ibrahimovic won the award for goal of the year for his bicycle kick against England . Nadine Angerer was the women’s player of the year and Silvia Neid, her fellow German, won the coach’s prize.
So a barren night for the English game ended with the tantalising revelation that Ronaldo was at least tempted to return to United, where Ferguson has called him the most naturally gifted player he managed.
At least the Premier League could claim a stake in his greatness.