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.