Real Madrid defender Pepe has hinted that FIFA is biased against teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting his fellow Portugal star is a better player than Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Despite several years of sensational performances, Ronaldo has won the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for the best player of the year only once. On three occasions, he has finished as runner-up to Argentine star Lionel Messi.
There was recent controversy over perceived disrespect shown to Ronaldo by FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, as reported by the Independent's James Orr, and Pepe believes that is just another example of unfairness to his teammate.
Per ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, Pepe said:
We know that with his figures it was not normal that he had only won one Ballon d’Or, after having been to seven or eight galas. And that just showed that lots of things happen in football.
Now you [journalists] have to show what happens. It is unfair what is going on with Cristiano. I hope he can win the Ballon d’Or. But Blatter has opened up many peoples’ eyes.
Ronaldo has been sensational in 2013, scoring 62 goals thus far in the calendar year to reach the 60-goal mark for the third consecutive year.
However, his tally this year places him 17 clear of his nearest rival in the Ballon d'Or shortlist, with Messi having managed just 45 goals in an injury-hit 2013.
The pair, though, face strong competition for the award this year from both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Franck Ribery.
However, in the same interview, Pepe expressed his firm belief that Ibrahimovic cannot compare to Ronaldo in terms of achievement over the past 12 months:
I played against him in preseason with Real Madrid and he is a great player. The most important is that we (Portugal) know what to do, to be very concentrated and to work as a team.
They are two great players, but nothing compares to what Cristiano does. He has unimaginable statistics and is the best in the world. I repeat, in this moment, there is no comparison.
The duo will come head-to-head over the coming week as Sweden and Portugal meet in a World Cup qualifying playoff double-header that will see only one of the duo reach the finals in Brazil next summer.
It is a major shame that both stars will not grace next year's competition together. However, it does add an exciting extra dynamic to the playoff fixtures.
Pepe is right that Ronaldo has not been given the recognition by FIFA that his play has often deserved, largely due to the fact Messi has always usurped him. On an individual level, there is no one who comes close to Ronaldo's statistics this year.
However, the Ballon d'Or is often influenced by those who grab headlines, such as Ibrahimovic. It is also often influenced by those who have won major titles, like Ribery and Messi to a lesser extent.
If Ronaldo doesn't win the award this year, expect further complaints about his treatment at the hands of FIFA come next January's announcement.