Real Madrid chasing more records as Ronaldo enjoys golden day
MADRID -- It was a special Saturday as Cristiano Ronaldo presented his fourth Ballon d'Or at the Bernabeu before Real Madrid thrashed Granada 5-0 to extend their unbeaten run in all competition to 39 games, equalling the Spanish club record set by Barcelona last season.
Real put on an expertly organised ceremony to mark the occasion, and the Portuguese superstar was delighted to milk the recognition before getting down to the work of scoring another goal and winning another game.
Ronaldo had brought all four of his Ballon d'Or trophies (including the latest 2016 version) from his personal museum in Madeira, and the crowd were treated to a special prematch showing, where the Portugal captain was feted for his personal achievements by his historical peers.
Also on the pitch ahead of kickoff were coach Zinedine Zidane and other former Ballon d'Or winners, including Brazil icon Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Michael Owen and Raymond Kopa, with more ex-Madrid winners Kaka and Fabio Cannavaro supplying video messages of congratulations as fans held up golden cards to make up a mosaic in the stands.
The party atmosphere continued on the pitch. Granada, in 19th, were especially generous guests, and referee Inaki Vicandi Garrido was accommodating as Isco (two), Karim Benzema and Ronaldo all found the net by half-time, with the day's main man getting on the scoresheet with a close range header from a pinpoint Marcelo cross.
Ronaldo has form running up big goal tallies in games against Granada, hitting five against them two seasons ago in a 9-1 thrashing at the Bernabeu. But he was unable to really take advantage of the struggling side's appalling defending here. Over the 90 minutes, he managed just two of his five shots on target and badly misdirected a second-half free header when left unmarked six yards out.
That was not the main point of the afternoon, however, with Zidane's side equalling the all-time Spanish club record of 39 games unbeaten in all competitions and stretching their lead at the top of La Liga to six points.
Ronaldo's personal acclaim comes just as the team has completed an outstanding calendar year, with fans and pundits expecting more collective success in the coming months.
There was an added extra as the Spanish lunchtime kick-off was organised to benefit Granada's new Chinese owners. In the end, the result will not have been to the visitors' liking, but it did mean that the pregame show involving Ronaldo and his fellow superstars gained extra exposure in important Far East markets.
All this came after the famous No. 7 had been left out by Zidane for Wednesday's 3-0 Copa del Rey win over Sevilla, with the coach insisting that both he and Ronaldo realise that a certain amount of rest and rotation will be required in the coming months.
He could be on the bench for Thursday's Copa del Rey trip to Sevilla, with that tie 3-0 in Madrid's favour and all but decided already. The aim is to keep him fresh for Saturday's return to the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan in a La Liga game, where a win will make Madrid odds-on to win this season's title.
Zidane was keen to point out the enormity of what Ronaldo has already achieved after the 5-0 win on Saturday.
"I'm happy for [Ronaldo], as it was very well deserved," the Frenchman said. "I am happy for him. He deserves it. It is always a bit strange to do things like that [ceremony] before the game. But in the end, it went well."
Ronaldo has repeatedly said that 2016 was the best year of his football life so far, as it brought Madrid's Champions League win and Portugal's Euro 2016 success plus plenty of personal glory. He is also expected to be back in the spotlight again on Monday at FIFA's "The Best" awards, where he is almost certain to collect the best player trophy.
There's nothing new for Ronaldo in picking up such accolades, but Saturday's performance showed that he may well be back in 12 months' time for another similarly choreographed ceremony with even more silverware to show off.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan