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Player Focus: Cristiano Ronaldo's Exponential Growth

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Player Focus: Cristiano Ronaldo's Exponential Growth

 

As utterly routine as a Cristiano Ronaldo goal - or indeed hat-trick - has become over the past five years, there was still something very distinctive about his final strike against Galatasaray on Tuesday night beyond its supreme quality.

 

For what is a surprisingly rare feat these days from the Portuguese forward, he used sleight of feet and an element of pure trickery to beat not one defender but two, before slamming the ball home. It was a hugely intimidating combination of chicanery and shock and awe.

 

Because, over the past few years, there can be little dispute that the fundamental root of Ronaldo’s world-class performances has been uncomplicated power. Rather than beat opponents with true innovation, he has tended to just take them out of the equation through force - either basic pace, shooting or heading. There is almost an unstoppable directness about his general play, which is in contrast to Leo Messi’s defter evasiveness.

 

Not so on Tuesday, which also saw the supposedly selfish Ronaldo assist Karim Benzema through a delightful swerved cross with the outside of his boot. At 28 years old, and the age that has traditionally seen players reach their peak, it is possible this represents a maturation in which he finally brings all of the strands of his ability together.

 

Either way, the trickery displayed harked back to his younger days. It was also a reminder of just how staggeringly far he’s come. Arguably more than any other genuinely elite player over the past two decades, Ronaldo has enjoyed an exceptional exponential growth.

 

Of course, none of this is to say his talent was ever in dispute. The Portuguese was clearly always going to be a special player. But, up until the age of 21 and that breakthrough run that began in early 2006, Ronaldo was as notorious for his frustrating wastefulness as he was known for his eyebrow-raising ability. There were more inconsequential stepovers than meaningful strikes. That is illustrated in his goal return.

 

The following is a list of players’ records from the past two decades who, just like Ronaldo, would have been considered mostly attacking wide players from the ages of 18 to 21. These periods of their career have been specifically chosen because they compare to the position and development of the Portuguese’s first three seasons at United, even if differing months of birth mean there is some give and take as regards the seasons used.

 

Player Focus: Cristiano Ronaldo's Exponential Growth

 

The stats are surprising. A number of players who haven’t got close to Ronaldo in terms of scoring - or even in terms of career achievement - had superior returns. Note Harry Kewell and Ludovic Giuly. In other words, Ronaldo’s strike output was no more than mediocre, at least in the context of talented young wingers.

 

Around that period, Alex Ferguson even felt he had to use wagers to try and improve the player's scoring. Ronaldo even lost the first two, as the United manager challenged him to get 10 and then 15. Ferguson admitted on the eve of last season’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid that he “never thought” the forward could reach his current strike rate.

 

Because, usually with such a standard of achievement, there is some very conspicuous early indicator. Note Messi’s goal returns at such a young age. With Ronaldo, however, there was quite simply nothing to suggest this. 

 

The following stats are the prime periods of the continent’s most prolific elite goalscorers since the creation of the European Cup. For proper comparison, only those who played at least a portion in that elite competition are included, while there must be at least two full seasons of high rates. Those who only played in South America, such as Pele, were also discounted.

 

Player Focus: Cristiano Ronaldo's Exponential Growth

 

The point to all of this is not just that Ronaldo has obviously improved, honed his game or altered his position. It is that he has gone from a scoring record that was arguably less than mediocre for a talented young winger, to one that is of historic quality for anyone in the sport.

 

In that context, it is genuinely remarkable.

 

The reasons for it are by now well known. Gary Neville has previously spoken of how Ronaldo returned from the 2006 World Cup a more powerful presence, and with the edges also shaven off his game. After that, as Rene Meulensteen has pointedly explained, United worked with him on his efficiency, his ruthlessness. 

 

Player Focus: Cristiano Ronaldo's Exponential Growth

 

Most of all, though, there is simply a player who is utterly determined to become the best he can possibly be. As the stats below reveal, there is a frightening bloody-mindedness to his approach since joining Real Madrid. He has attempted more shots over that period than anyone else in the top 5 European leagues, but it has clearly paid off.

 

The most ominous aspect of all is that, as the game against Galatasaray illustrated, his evolution might not have ended yet.

 

Is Cristiano Ronaldo going to continue getting better or is he at his peak at present? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

 


Comments (13)

 
  • i Think we havent seen CR hit his peak, or if he has, he has been in there and will be there for a while.

  • ive heard a lot of people say in the past few years that the fact that hes playing in la liga is why his striking rate has gone up so dramatically, but a quick glance at his strike rate in europe gives you the full picture. hes scoring WAY more goals for madrid in the CL than what he did for united. hell, last season he had 12 in 12, which is similar to his la liga goals to games ratio. cristiano has genuinely moved himself into a legendary category. some people have a tough time calling him a legend or an icon of the game, but if he keeps going like this, hes going to be one of the top scorers in the champions leagues history and the top scorer in real madrid's history. thats fucking amazing. and even ignoring his goals, hes an unsettling player. he always gives defenders a hard time, and ive heard stories about defenders who have to face him. he always just has a presence on the field, he gets in your head, and hes incredibly hard to play against.

  • He is utterly out of this world I must say he's Martian his number of ballon dor Doesn't show he's true greatness in 2012 that was suppose to be his 2nd hs Def going to be best and best physical conditon has always been key

  • I honestly dont think there's a player in Europe who trains as hard as Ronaldo. Even straight down to the diet, he works so hard to maintain his amazing form. He really has changed, Like Delaney said, he's not as flashy as his ManUtd or even his early Real Madrid days, he does just enough to get past opponents relying on his amazing first touch and his quick acceleration.

  • El mejor jugador del mundo!!!! Dalle Madrid Dalle!

  • Brazilian weak league? Chelsea, that was easily beat for corinthians in fifa world club final, disagree

  • Neymar played in weak league though

  • @atalojr in Brazilian League Messi, CR7 or Hazard would have more than 1 goal per game :P

  • "The following stats are the prime periods of the continent’s most prolific elite goalscorers since the creation of the European Cup." Ronaldo 96/04 WTF? Ronaldo, the real ronaldo, wasn't in your prime after 2002. The injuries kill him. And he gained much weight

  • Neymar is 0.58 goals per game at 18-21

  • i think he hit his peak in 2012 but he will still score 50 a season till he is 31.

  • Greaaaaaaaaaaat article. It points exactly the things thaw were on my mind. As for the question about his "peak", I think season 2007/2008 and year 2012 were his best times.

  • With such determination there's basically no way to actually define a "peak" for Ronaldo.

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Alexis Sanchez Pedro Loïc Remy Sami Allagui Frédéric Kanouté Renato Augusto Jonathan Pitropia Eljero Elia Ivo Llicevic Fernando Muslera Diego Perez Alvaro González Abel Hernandez David VIlla Marcel Schmelzer Danijel Pranjic Holger Badstuber Sven Bender Johan Djourou Darren Fletcher Carlos Kameni Thiago Silve Antonia Di Natale Cristiano Zapata Domenico Criscito Luis Jimenez Josep Ilicic Samuel Eto’o Alexis Thébaux Ludovic Sané Mamouda Sakho Boukary Dramé Daniel Alves Nikolay Mihaylov Charles Puyol Ji-Sung Park Edwin van der Sar Dani Alves John O’Shea Park Ji-Jung Gabi Fernandez Jonathan de Guzman Michael Owen Gary Taylor-Fletcher Ian Evatt DJ Campbell Charles N’Zogbia Wolverhampton Robinho Rudi Garcia Avram Grant Conor Sammon Wayne Bridge Rob Green Victor Obinna Mike Hanke Borussia Munchengladbach VfL Bochum Tomasz Kuszczak Martin Olsson Brett Emerton Jermaine Jones Steven N’Zonzi Muset Ozil Gianpaolo Pazzini Leonardo Seydou Keita Miguel Pallardo Ibrahim Afellay Valdo Pallardo Damien Perquis Luka Modrid David SIlva Roberto Mancini Harry Redknapp Benoit Assou-Ekotto Vedran Corluka Carlo Ancelotti Saloman Kalou Clarence Seedorf Matteo Brighi Fabio Simplicio Rodrigo Taddei Mark Van Bommel Gennaro Gattuso Kevin Prince-Boateng Nicolas Burdisso Elkin Soto Pep Gaurdiola Lassana Diarra Jurgen Klopp Lucas Barrios Antonio da Silva Robert Mak Heurelho Gomes Andre Marriner Pinto Alavro Arbeloa Nikola Zigic Alexander Hleb Cameron Jerome

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