For the fourth time in five years, exactly one soccer player has made TIME magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Following in the footsteps of Didier Drogba (2010), Lionel Messi (2012) and Mario Balotelli (2013), Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo takes soccer’s spot in this year’s group, one of five athletes chosen to the publication’s annual list.
Professional basketball player Jason Collins, tennis star Serena Williams, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, and golfer Lydia Ko also claim spots on the list, one that’s traditionally dominated by cultural celebrities, politicians, artists and innovators.
Despite the solemnity of the task, it’s a list that can’t be taken too seriously, yet it does provide some insight as to who is making an impact beyond our often introverted soccer sphere. Particularly in a World Cup year, the selection as special meaning, acting as a type of mainstream “who to watch as this summer’s tournament.”
That’s why Drogba — the most prominent African player at 2010’s African World Cup — was selected. Lionel Messi’s choice came at the height of the Barcelona star’s dominance (are we already talking about this like it’s in the past?), while the cultural and sociological implications surrounding Mario Balotelli provide an extra dimension to what’s become and obligatory soccer spot.
So why Cristiano Ronaldo? He is the Ballon d’Or winner, but with the selections of Drogba and Balotelli, we see those types of honors aren’t necessary to get on this list. With this summer’s world championship being held in Brazil, it may have made more sense to select a Brazilian national team member, though there are no obvious candidates. And among the other possibilities for this honor, Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be at the World Cup at all.
In all likelihood, it was just Ronaldo’s turn. If TIME’s looking for a soccer player to provide some global athletic relevance, he is the obvious choice. While he may not truly be one of the world’s 100 most influential people (at least, let’s hope not), he is the the best candidate for the soccer slot. As this sport’s prestige goes, Ronaldo has as much as anybody, right now.
But if we buy into a few premises — the TIME does tend to pick one (and only one) soccer player; that repeat selections are avoided — are can already start guessing who will be on next year’s list. If he has a good World Cup, Luis Suárez seems a logical bet, though a world championship for host nation Brazil could also vault Neymar into the spot. Maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s newfound social media relevance will make the case for his influence, though TIME may take a year off entirely, as it did after the last World Cup.
This year, however, Ronaldo gets the honor. And deservedly so.