Ronaldo’s Goalscoring Achievement 2007-8

He hasn’t finished yet, but as things stand, midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 26 goals in 28 League appearances. Add in his 3 FA Cup goals and 7 Champions League strikes, and we can see that in 40 appearances (38 starts) he has managed 36 goals.

It means that if he scores a goal a game from here until the end of the Premiership season, he’ll join Alan Shearer and Andrew Cole as joint Premiership goalscoring record holder. And that’s good. But what’s more interesting about Ronaldo is not how he compares as a remarkable goalscoring midfielder up against modern out-and-out strikers, but how he compares against William “Dixie” Dean.

Because this is where the jaw really begins to drop. Dean, of course, scored more goals in his career than any other top flight English player. Arthur Rowley scored more, but at a slower rate, and for much of the time in lower divisions. Dean played one full season outside Division One.

What’s more, and again of course, Dean scored 60 goals in one 42-game season, but I’d argue that, great as that achievement is, it has more than a little to do with the 1925 change in the offside rule which brought several season’s glorious goalscoring chaos to the Football League.

It’s comparing Ronaldo’s season with Dixie’s other seasons that’s interesting.

Remember that Ronaldo has scored 26 in 28, or, if you prefer, 36 from 40, from midfield. (Only 4 of them penalties). Here’s Dean:

1925-26: 32 goals from 38 games.

1926-27: 21 goals from 27 games.

1927-28: 60 goals from 39 games.

1928-29: 26 goals from 29 games.

1929-30: 23 goals from 25 games.

1931-32: 45 goals from 38 games.

1932-33: 24 goals from 39 games.

1934-35: 26 goals from 38 games.

Injuries aside, Dean kept it up for year upon year. And he started  younger  – Dean was born in 1907, and was Theo Walcott’s age in the first season that I’ve featured here. Ronaldo is 23, two years older than Dean when Dean met Babe Ruth.

But Dean wasn’t playing against five man defences every week, let alone five man defences with midfielders sitting deep to shield them.

I think Dean would have sympathised with Ronaldo. Dean was a target for rough play too, but at a time when this was seen as normal. (And there’s just a bit too much artificial disgust at Ronaldo’s diving: when Alan Shearer bent the rules or deceived refs, commentators used to say that he’d “used his experience.” Then there’s the young Stan Matthews’ shock on his debut at the stamping, kicking, surreptitious punching and gouging that went on in First Division games in the ’30s and no doubt still does..)

Ronaldo is not just scoring at George Best rates, in George Best’s best season. He’s not just scoring at Alan Shearer rates; he’s in Dixie Dean territory. Not quite Jimmy Greaves yet, but he’s quite clearly improving as a player and that can’t be ruled out. Because – this hasn’t been one of those “surprise” seasons, where a new player sweeps all before him Marcus Stewart style. And Stewart “only” managed 19 anyway. Ronaldo has been around for a few seasons now, and other teams know all about him.

It’s remarkable. We’re all here to see it at first hand, rather than having to rely upon the memories of old men and the exigencies of nitrate film. I expect the famous backheel of a week ago will be the moment that encapsulates it in years to come, but for me, that Dixie Dean-style header against Roma last night is the one that raises my echoes.

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8 responses to “Ronaldo’s Goalscoring Achievement 2007-8

  1. What… no mention of the great Matt Le Tissier for a comparison in the modern game!

  2. Supporting your point about defences, there were also more goals around then, with an average of 3.6 to 3.8 per game rather than the 2.6 this season.

    It means Ronaldo has scored 3.1% of all the goals in the Premiership this season, which Dean only bettered in his 60 goal season (ending 1928) when he scored 3.4%. His best other than that was 2.6% in the season ending 1932.

    Of course he might have played fewer or more games than Ronaldo, and if you compare his goals per game, which range from 0.62 to 1.54, with an average of 0.94, with Ronaldo’s, which is 0.93, as a % of the average goals per game in the league, then Ronaldo’s is 36% of the average, whilst Dean’s ranged from 17% to 40% (in the 60 goal season), but was only above Ronaldo’s in the 60 goal season and averaged 25%.

    In terms of their own teams, Ronaldo’s scored 38% of Man U’s goals, which is exactly the same as Dean’s average in the seasons you list as a % of Everton’s.

  3. Interesting stuff all round. The obvious point that hasn’t been made, of course, is that Ronaldo is still ostensibly a winger. If Ronaldo does continue to score at the rate of, say, a Dixie Dean, then the next debate is whether this represents a new style of football? As far as I know, there has never been a winger that has scored so prolifically at the highest level, thus leaving Ronaldo to become almost totally unique in the game.

    Despite this, it would seem that three criticisms are still being levelled at Ronaldo. First, that he does not perform in big games. I’ve never understood this; “Big Games” seem to be a Sky-manufactured myth, and I have no doubt that Ronaldo will go on to refute this. Interestingly, he has only scored 3 goals in 40 games against the other members of the ‘Big Four’. Secondly, some have commented on the detrimental affect of Ronaldo’s goal-scoring on his season’s assists. Looking at the statistics in the league, he has only provided 6 assists all season, roughly equivalent to Fulham’s Simon Davies. This is in stark contrast to Thierry Henry, who provided almost as many assists as goals in his most prolific Arsenal seasons. Finally, the most subtle criticism was made by Brian Glanville this week. Despite my disliking for the man’s ‘good old days’ approach, he did seem to make a good point about Ronaldo’s inability to ‘control’ the game in the manner of a Zidane, a Platini or a Cruyff. This, again, sparks another major debate; whose role in a game is more important, those who score the goals or those who make them?

  4. Of course there’s also the European Championship this year – has he been scoring goals for Portugal?

  5. 3 so far this season I believe, but has only got a strike-rate of around 1 every 3 games overall (20 in 54). Will be interesting to see if Portugal push him further forward (as Ferguson did v. Portsmouth [?] earlier this season) to compensate for their lack of top-level strikers.

  6. @everybody: thanks! this is fascinating. Jon, it’s interesting that Henry scored many of his goals either in or coming from a wide position. It’s as if he, and Ronaldo, are willing to surrender the clogged midfield to the, er, cloggers, and to do their damage from the wing. Which raises the subject of whether it’s right to consider Ronaldo as a midfielder at all, rather than one of a new breed of “wide strikers”.

    I’ve never understood the doesn’t-perform-in-big-games thing either. Firstly, because big teams just don’t get devastated in the way Ronaldo and Henry did lesser sides. Secondly, because I think certain commentators want him to compensate for his skill with a yellow streak. Thirdly, because he was brilliant against England in 2006, and – winking apart – won the game through sheer willpower and determination when his teammates were all for throwing in the towel.

    That comparison on assists with Henry is telling – I wonder if it will prove to be a matter of inexperience that rights itself as time goes by, or if it will prove a long-term weakness.

  7. Good points – but having considered it I’m not sure I completely agree with your winger-striker theory. I agree that Ronaldo does score, as Henry did, a fair number of goals cutting in from the wing. And this could be one possible explanation for the lack of assists – a traditional winger was required to ‘beat his man and whip it in’ etc. But Ronaldo is also part of a United team that defies most normal offensive footballing conventions of the post-war period – neither Tevez nor Rooney could be considered as traditional ‘target men’, or ‘poacher’ strikers, allowing them instead to play a constantly moving brand of football that only Barcelona have come close to replicating. I would almost call it ‘attacking total football’ as it means that any of the front 4/5, aside from Hargreaves/Carrick, can and do appear in any postion. The perfect encapsulation of that is the video you have just posted – Scholes, an attacking centre midfielder, picks the ball up out wide from Rooney, a striker, and crosses it in for the onrushing Ronaldo, a winger, to head a centre-forwards goal.

    What we now see, therefore, is Ronaldo as the star act of an attacking ensemble.

  8. Ronaldo needs top players to work with. He is at his best when he can swop positions with Rooney or Tevez or Saha (on the odd occasion he plays.) But then most great players need other outstanding players to prosper. There are odd one-man performances, such as the Beckham versus Greece match you mention below but they are very rare. Jon is right. It is the ensemble that makes it possible most of the time.

    And there are great seasons in individual players’ lives. It would be interesting to note them. Marcus Stewart had one such, as you mention, but Ginola and Asprilla had theirs. Micah Richards looked as though he might have one but then dropped away. The great players have more than one,. But then Ronaldo had a pretty good one last year too, I’d say. I don’t think there has been a more watchable player in England this year or last.

    But then I have just watched Theo Walcott beat four men from his own penalty area and lay the ball off for Adebayor to score. And still lose. Walcott’s time may come.