We are in the Cristiano Era – every goalscorer before was prehistoric

3 months ago 0

The Real Madrid forward has single-handedly changed what it means to be a goalscoring legend

Raul wore Real Madrid’s No. 7 shirt during Cristiano Ronaldo’s first season there. He was the kind of player Madrid fans had in mind when it came to great goalscorers. By the time Raul left – at the end of the 2009-10 season – he had earned the honour of being the club’s all-time top scorer.

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Adored by all Madrid fans though he was, they knew – despite their affections – that his time at the very top was at an end. He departed for Schalke with 323 goals scored in 741 games.

Raul was 33 when he left the Spanish capital. Cristiano Ronaldo is 32 and appears to be gearing up for another stage in his career – another challenge – and many more goals. He has already scored 395 goals in 386 matches for Real Madrid. That’s 63 more goals than Raul in 355 fewer games.

Raul scored on average a goal every 2.29 games. Ronaldo’s Madrid average is a goal every .98 games. If he plays as many matches as Raul – and continues to score at this rate – he’ll finish with 755 goals for Real Madrid. Granted, he’d have to play another six seasons, but remember he signed a five-year contract last year.

Look at those numbers again. He has single-handedly redefined what it means to be a great Real Madrid goalscorer. Ronaldo surpassed Raul’s goalscoring record very close to 100 per cent quicker. In other sports that rate of improvement takes decades, even centuries.

A goal ratio as close to 1:1 as to be indistinguishable at a time when the game has never been quicker or more difficult is not only astonishing, it’s like an alien with advanced knowledge of how to score goals has teleported to earth with the sole intention of obliterating earthlings and their puny, pre-historic abilities.

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The standards he’s set himself are so high that a streak of two or three games without a goal is considered a drought.

There is no question that this time last year doubts were raised over his longevity and how much he had left to give not only Real Madrid but Portugal too. He was suffering knocks. He was unhappy. He was unable to influence the biggest games like Clasicos or Madrid derbies. He was lumbering under accusations that he was padding his records; lots of goals against the not-so-good teams and precious few against the very good ones.

Ronaldo, though, has a way of making you eat your words like no other player. A six-month barren spell in the Champions League this season was sufficient to have pundits again writing him off and favouring Bayern Munich to progress from the quarter-finals. He scored five goals over two legs in which he probably didn’t “play” very well.

He is the first man to reach 100 goals in this competition. He is – of course – the all-time top goalscorer, just like he is for his country, for his club and the European Championships. The goalscoring records seem never-ending because the next time he scores he’ll probably break another one. He is beyond conventional analysis.

But let’s try and this is just a lucky dip into the stats. Forty-seven of his Champions League goals have come away from home. Nine of them have come against Bayern. He has scored 10+ goals in Europe five seasons running. Twenty of his 100 Champions League goals have come between minutes 76 and 90.

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Everyone ages; Ronaldo is no different. He might be Superman but he is not superhuman. The injuries he’s suffered – particularly the patellar tendinosis in the run up to the 2014 World Cup – have taken their toll. He cannot sprint as often or over as long a distance. He cannot pick the ball up deep any more – regularly, at least, against top opponents – and slalom his way through before scoring from the edge of the box.

He has never shown the inclination to drop deep. He knows his game is limited these days but plays gloriously to his own strengths. The numbers bear out the metamorphosis in his game.

He created 75 chances in 29 matches during his first La Liga season at Real Madrid. This year the total is 25 in 24. He played 1118 passes across that season. To date he’s played only 646 in this one. He completed 91 dribbles back then, he’s completed 21 up to this point in the season. He put in 107 crosses in his first season for Real, this year it’s 29. He touched the ball 1978 times back then, now it’s 1061.

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Those adjustments have kept his scoring rate intact. There were 26 goals in 29 appearances in 2009-10 and there are 19 in 24 this time around. Seventeen of his 19 strikes this term have come inside the area. He scored five of his 26 from outside the box in his first season.

Barca beware – Ronaldo is targeting the big moments now. He's like Serena Williams, saving herself for the Grand Slams. Everything he is doing right now is tailored to one target: scoring goals. Back when he started at Real, Ronaldo was a "7" wearing 9. Now is a "9" wearing 7. Ronaldo’s rates of improvement mean that this sport can be split in two; BCE, the Before Cristiano Era, and CE, the Cristiano Era.

It is not worth comparing forwards from before that time to what Ronaldo can do today. It’s not a fair fight. He has elevated goalscoring to an art form and broken through barriers not thought possible.