As he so often does against weak opposition, Cristiano Ronaldo decimated Granada on Saturday, hitting an astonishing five goals in a 9-1 thrashing of the relegation-threatened club, a tally which brought the Real Madrid forward to 36 goals on the season -- four ahead of rival Lionel Messi -- and within a single goal of hitting the 300-mark for his club. Ronaldo now ranks third on Real’s all-time list for goals, nine shy of legend Alfredo Di Stefano’s 308, and 24 shy of New York Cosmos striker Raul Gonzalez’s 323. However, the truly astonishing statistic will be the rate at which the Portuguese accomplishes the all-time scoring record for Real, as he has, to date, made just 287 appearances. At 1.04 goals-per-game, Ronaldo has a better strike ratio than even Messi (0.85 goals-per-game) boasts for Barcelona.
Of course, Messi has played his entire career at Barca, while Ronaldo spent six of his first seven seasons as a professional playing in the English Premier League with Manchester United, where his goals per game ratio is not nearly as impressive (0.40 goals per game). If you add together the Portuguese winger’s total number of strikes for United, Real and Sporting Lisbon (his debut season was with the Portuguese team as a 17-year-old), his goals-per-game ratio falls to 0.69.
So, over the course of his career as professional, Messi boasts a superior goals-per-game ratio than Ronaldo. End of story, right? Not so fast.
While it’s certainly fair to say that Ronaldo developed into a goal-scoring machine later in his career than Messi did (he scored 32 goals in his first 168 appearances in all competitions in four professional seasons compared to Messi’s 42 in 110 in his first four), it won’t be lost on Ronaldo-watchers that then-United coach Sir Alex Ferguson deployed Ronaldo as a left or right-sided midfielder, while Messi was almost always deployed as a right-sided forward. That means that comparing Ronaldo and Messi’s first four seasons isn’t necessarily the apples-to-apples comparison you might have thought it would be.
So what, then, is the point of all these statistics?
As you might have noticed, Ronaldo is completely obsessed with his rivalry with Messi. How do we know this? Because he said the following (and there are several other, similar examples) only last fall: “It’s part of my life now. People are bound to compare us. He tries to do his best for his club and for his national team, as I do, and there is a degree of rivalry with both of us trying to do the best for the teams we represent.” Messi, on the other hand, consistently refers to the rivalry as a media fabrication.
So, either Messi is lying about the rivalry, or he really isn’t bothered by it. Cristiano, on the other hand, admits that it’s part of his life. Which brings us to our point for today.
At the age of 30, Ronaldo will never surpass Messi’s La Liga goals record; the 2013 and 2014 Ballon d’Or winner’s tally of 213 goals in the Spanish league is more than 60 short of Messi’s record of 275, and he is nearly three years older than the Argentine. Cristiano will also fail to surpass his rival in total goals scored as well as his goals-per-game ratio in the UEFA Champions League (they are currently tied with 76 each but Ronaldo has made 20 more appearances than Messi in the competition).
Since he can’t compete for the total goals record in La Liga or the UCL, you better believe the Portuguese will want to hold onto his impressive goals-per-game strike ratio in the Spanish league (1.21 goals-per-game compared to Messi’s 0.90 goals-per-game), because no matter what happens over the next few years, Messi (and anyone else, for that matter) will struggle to equal it.
And that might only hasten Ronaldo’s departure from Real. Having already won La Liga, two Copa del Reys, the UEFA Champions League, two Pichichis, the World’s Best Top Goal Scorer award and a pair of Ballon d’Ors during his time in the Spanish capital, the Portuguese may well decide to quickly leave La Liga -- and his rivalry with Messi -- behind as soon as he surpasses Raul’s record, and especially if Real enjoys more success this season. The billion-dollar question then becomes: where will he move next?