Breaking Neymar’s two-year hold on the award, Atlético Mineiro’s Ronaldinho has been voted the 2013 South American Player of the Year. It’s the first time the 33-year-old Brazilian, a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, has claimed South America’s top honor, finishing ahead of Neymar and Newell’s Old Boys’ Maxi Rodríguez to do so.
In voting conducted by Uruguayan newspaper El Pais, Ronaldinho garnered 156 of 345 possible votes. Neymar, who split 2013 between Brazilian club Santos and Spain’s Barcelona, earned 81 votes, while Rodríguez was chosen by 79 voters.
The award, restricted to players competing in South American leagues during the calendar year, has been handed out since 1975 and has been won by Brazilians a record 10 times (Ronaldinho’s win moves Brazil one ahead of Argentina). Chilean Elías Figueroa, Brazilian Zico, and Argentine Carlos Tévez have each won the award a record three times, with only Figueroa and Tévez having claimed the honor in three consecutive years.
In 2013, Ronaldinho’s second season with Mineiro, the former Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and Milan attacker led the Belo Horizonte team to the first South American title in the club’s 105-year history. Along the way, Ronaldinho recorded seven goals and six assists in Copa Liberadores, the highlight of his most successful season since returning to his home country from Europe. In all competitions, the attacking midfielder scored 17 times and set up 11 others in 36 all-competition games.
The 2013 season was Ronaldinho’s third in South America after returning from Milan in the winter of 2011. After just over one year with Flamengo, however, the 2002 World Cup winner moved to Atlético Mineiro, where he just completed his second season. Along the way, Ronaldinho’s amassed 54 goals and 26 assists while winning two state titles and a Libertadores.
Neymar, who nearly joined Figueroa and Tévez by winning the award in three straight years, only played one game in Brazil’s Campeonato before moving to Barcelona this summer. Between his state league (Paulista) and the Copa do Brasil, however, Neymar scored 13 times in 23 games for Santos.
Rodríguez was part of the Newell’s Old Boys team that won Argnetina’s Torneo Final before finishing forth in the Inicial. Across both tournaments, the former Espanyol, Atlético Madrid and Liverpool winger scored 10 times, adding three goals more for his country in World Cup qualifying.