During the World Cup, I made a bunch of Gifolutions of how different players’ statistical radars have evolved over time. Two that I never got around to were Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. This is odd because as any hit-whoring writer knows, those two guys will get you the most hits, period, but life moves fast, you know?
Messi’s radar barely changes over the period of data I have – he pretty much lives in the top 5% of every forward stat ever, every single year. The little lion is metronomic in his alienness.
I didn’t get around to Ronaldo because Portugal went out of the World Cup fairly early, but Cristiano is different. He’s evolved over the years from a slightly gangly kid full of flash and promise into a man mountain of power, pace, and technique.
What’s interesting is that Ronaldo’s statistical output has changed as well. It’s rare to see a player who is nominally a wide forward score at the levels that Ronaldo does. It is even more weird – unprecedented, actually – for anyone in the world to shoot as much as Ronaldo does. In fact, over the five years prior to this one, Ronaldo lead every player in the world in shots per 90. By a mile.
No one shoots more than 7 times per 90 minutes.
That’s like 60-70% of the entire game volume for half of the teams in the world! The locations of his shots weren’t always what one might wish for, but when a player scores goals in the volume that Ronaldo does, you kind of have to accept a little bad with all that good.
This year, Ronaldo is a little different. As his age creeps up on 30, his shot volume has gone down (nearly 2 shots per 90 from last season, a jawdropping amount in itself), but his efficiency is way up. This translates to MORE goals, not less. Assists to teammates are also way up, which means as he heads into his third decade, Ronaldo is having his best scoring season.
By having a little more confidence in the incredible cast around him at Real Madrid, he’s finally become a truly complete player. It’s impossible not to respect a guy who keeps learning and developing, even when at the pinnacle of world football.