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The Bootroom: where are Ronaldo’s goals coming from?

The Real Madrid superstar is on course to win his personal league race with Leo Messi for the title of Pichichi – Spain’s top scorer. But how is he doing it?

Cristiano Ronaldo: Portuguese has hit 36 league goals in 32 games.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Portuguese has hit 36 league goals in 32 games.
Image: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

IN SPAIN, THE war might be over but there’s a battle to be fought yet.

Barcelona were most deservedly crowned three-in-a-row champions during the week and there’s little more to be said on their brilliance (Sid Lowe puts it in perspective here).

But with seven goals in a week, Cristiano Ronaldo has moved back into the lead for the Pichichi, La Liga’s top scorer award, ahead of Lionel Messi.

Marca would crown him king. Critics will say it hardly matters and point to Messi overshadowing him in the recent Champions league games.

The stats are mind-boggling: 36 league goals in 32 games, 82 goals in 86 games over two seasons for Real Madrid. During his 43-goal season with Man Utd in 2007/08 there were murmurings of that strike-rate being freakish but he’s just carried on racking up goals and proved it’s simply normal.That’s phenomenal.

Sure, there’s padding in amongst those figures – goals four, six and seven in a 7-0 over Malaga, goals four and five in a 5-1 over Bilbao – but there’s enough game-altering moments included to take the glut of goals seriously as well.

Ronaldo has contributed meaningful goals or assists in 15 games in the league alone and close to half the goals have been gamechangers (first goals in a win, goals that have made a difference to outcome). Add in six goals from 12 games in the Champions league and seven from seven in the Copa Del Rey, including the winner in the final over Barca and there’s been plenty of big moments.

Net gain?

And yet there are qualifications to all the numbers. He’s had more shots than your average stag party. Ronaldo has had 241 strikes on goal in the league this season alone, a mad sort of trigger-happy number (compared to Lionel Messi’s 150 for instance) and has verged on ridiculousness in some games in particular – 15 shots in the win over Real Sociedad, 14 shots in the Champions league game at the Bernabeu with Spurs.

There’s a real sense of a player who’s become obsessed with personal achievement to the detriment of the team, taking on potshots at goal from all distances, angles and positions. Even Ronaldo’s general movement, often dynamic and varied in United’s 4-3-3 with Rooney and Tevez when he attacked teams from different areas, seems to have become fixated on just getting as close to goal as quickly as possible so he can get into scoring positions.

Alex Ferguson doesn’t tend to indulge players too often, yet was happy to build a side around Ronaldo’s strengths and got rewarded with a few league titles and two Champions league final appearances from the best player in the world for maybe a year or so around 2007/08 (have a look here) at a time Lionel Messi hadn’t quite hit the heights.

Thoughts that Jose Mourinho might smack a little of the individualism out of him have been generally misplaced as well, Ronaldo still needing the team set up around him, still needing to be the go-to guy and allowed do his own thing. He’s chipped in with eight assists in the league (Ozil’s at 16 as a comparison, though the German is seen more as the playmaker to be fair) which is decent enough but there are concerns that Ronaldo’s one-track mindedness can disturb the rhythm of the side – If he was in this position these days, would he give the pass or go himself?

Guillem Balague often theorised on Sky last season, though it tended to be rubbished by Graham Hunter, that there was an informal competition between Ronaldo and Higuain to score more goals than the other, which was hampering teamwork in certain situations.

Ronaldo may have always had a selfish tendency – at United it manifested itself at its worst in the Champions league final of ’09, when he wasted several decent positions by trying to do too much – but at Real, it must be an issue now, when your top player demands all chances go through him. At Barca, you have Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Pedro, Messi all working to the same goal while at Real, Ronaldo appears to believe Di Maria, Ozil, Higuain, Marcelo and others exist to serve him chances.

He has already shown with United he can lead a side to titles so doesn’t have that to prove; the time may have come where he has to adapt his game to win another though.

Bad timing

Ronaldo has been unlucky to be playing for Real in the Messi era in some ways. Most heavyweight boxers of the Ali era came across as slugging brutes in comparison and Ronaldo suffers badly when sharing the stage with the selfless, likeable, twinkle-toed magic of Messi (31 goals, 18 assists in La Liga).

Barca are such a superior side at present that it’s difficult anyway for the Portuguese forward to impose any impression on the Clasicos, so again advantage Messi here.

It might well be amazingly churlish to ask questions about a guy with his goalscoring record, but Jose Mourinho could spend the summer wondering if he can manage to get the most from Ronaldo while still getting the best from his Real Madrid.

Read more in The Bootroom series>

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About the author:

Barry O'Donovan

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