- Cristiano Ronaldo, the king of the UEFA Champions League, is losing his crown.
- The 34-year-old striker has won the tournament five times and was signed by Juventus to help them conquer Europe this season.
- But Ronaldo has performed poorly against the Champions League elite this year, and Juventus is trailing 2-0 ahead of a critical Round of 16 second leg against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
- Business Insider has produced five charts that highlight Ronaldo’s plight from a once-great player in Europe to an average one as he struggles to make an impact in the 2018-2019 season.
- Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-2019 soccer season right here.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time UEFA Champions League winner, is losing his crown as the king of Europe.
Juventus signed the striker to help the team conquer the competition, but all he has done is return truly awful performances for the Turin club.
Ronaldo is an athlete in rapid decline, and we’ve got the charts to prove it.
Sure, he’s lit up Serie A since his arrival in Italy, is second in the division’s top scorer charts, joint top of the assist leaderboard, and appears set to win a Scudetto in his debut season in the country. At the time of writing, Juventus is first in Serie A with 75 points after 27 games played – an 18-point lead over its closest rival, Napoli, in second place with 57.
It took a while for Ronaldo to get started this season, though. He failed to score in his first three league appearances and attracted the most unwanted statistic in European soccer – he had taken the most shots (23) without scoring than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. It was so bad, Ronaldo’s own 9-year-old son was outscoring him for a Juventus youth team. But by his fourth game, just two months after transferring from Real Madrid in a $US129.3 million deal, Ronaldo shrugged off the drought and tallied nine goals and four assists in his next 10 outings.
Ronaldo isn’t doing in the Champions League what he’s done in the past.
Ronaldo’s first goal in the Italian competition may have been an uninspiring point-blank poke, capitalising on an unforced defensive error during a September match against Sassuolo, but he has since scored a thunderous goal at AC Milan, as well as an outrageous header after a perfectly-timed run to scoop his first trophy of the year. He remains one of the focal players according to research that shows he is completely unaffected by in-game pressure – something his peers, like Neymar, succumb to.
But league football alone does not tell the full story when it comes to Ronaldo’s performance level.
In the UEFA Champions League, a competition Juventus is paying Ronaldo to help them win, he has been strictly average – and it has not gone unnoticed by the soccer industry.
“Cristiano Ronaldo’s powers are in retreat,” an Independent headline read this week – words that echo the 54-year-old coach Roberto Mancini, current boss of Italy’s national team.
“He’s doing well in Serie A… he’s having a good season,” Mancini said last month, according to Goal.com. However, Mancini added that “Ronaldo isn’t doing in the Champions League what he’s done in the past.”
His form in world soccer’s biggest club-level competition has waned – and five charts show how truly awful he has been in the Champions League this year.
1: Ronaldo’s strike efficiency is down
Aside from a stunning volley in November, Ronaldo has rarely been directly involved in a Champions League goal this season. He has affected the scoreline (scored or created a goal) only once for every 160 minutes he has played, which is a sharp decline from five years ago when he was responsible for a goal or an assist every 47 minutes. That’s down from almost two per game, to one almost every two games. Over five years ago he was four times more effective in front of the goal than he is today.
There’s no other way around it – this is bad. The decline is real, but only becoming common knowledge this season. This is because Ronaldo was previously generating headlines for producing exceptional performances in the tournament’s biggest games – the knockout rounds – and this seemingly masked the year-on-year diminishing of his overall powers.
His total goals in the 2016 (16), 2017 (12), and 2018 (15) tournaments massively contributed to Real Madrid’s successes, as the team won back-to-back-to-back Champions League trophies. His ability to perform well in the latter stages was in stark contrast to his main rival, Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona, who has not scored in a big game – a match beyond the group stages – since 2015. Ronaldo, since Messi’s two goals against Bayern that year, has scored 11 quarterfinal goals, three semifinal goals, and two goals in the final.
Possessing a goalscoring pedigree when it mattered most made the media overlook the fact he was advancing in years and slowing down. But now that he is failing to push Juventus through European matches with as much ease as he was with Real, attention has been drawn to why: he’s no longer as great as he once was. His one goal and two assists this European season are testament to that, but this is not the only statistic that highlights his struggles.
2: The quality of Ronaldo’s shots is poor compared to yesteryear
When looking at the quality and accuracy of his shots, it is clear that one of the reasons he is failing to score with as much frequency as he has in the past is because he cannot hit the target with as much regularity as he did for Real Madrid just five years ago.
In the the 2013-2014 season, Ronaldo hit the target with 38 shots of the 76 he attempted. This is a 50% accuracy, works out as one shot for every 13 minutes he played, and one shot on target for every 26 minutes. Working on averages, that’s between three and four shots on target for every game played. All of those on-target shots will have yielded one of two results: a save, or a goal.
As the previous chart shows, Ronaldo scored 17 goals that season. That’s almost one goal for every two shots on target – an excellent success rate, but a rate he has failed to hit ever since, this season more than ever.
In the 2018-2019 campaign, Ronaldo has hit the target with just eight shots of the 35 he attempted – 22% accuracy. He is less than half as accurate with his shots this season than he was over five years ago. He is still taking a shot once every 13 minutes, but he is only hitting the target every 59 minutes. That is, on average, little more than just once per game. It is little wonder he has only scored once this season in Europe, so far.
3: Ronaldo is on the ball less, and not passing as frequently
While Ronaldo is providing more key chances on a per-game basis than he did at Real over the last five years, tallying one goal-scoring opportunity for his teammates every 36 minutes this season compared to once every 45 minutes in the 2013-2014 season, his average amount of passes per European game is shockingly low.
An average of 27.3 passes per game is lower than any of the striker’s last five years at Real. At his current rate of decline, Ronaldo will be managing just 21.7 passes per game in 2022 – the year his Juventus contract is set to expire. If he is only managing to attempt one pass for every 4.1 minutes he is on the pitch, he will find himself more isolated and increasingly unable to affect games like he was able to do with ease in his prime.
4: His control is getting worse
Ronaldo’s technique may also be deteriorating. Data website Whoscored.com tracks the amount of bad controls – miscontrols of the football, or the times the player loses the ball entirely – each player tallies on a per-game basis, and Ronaldo’s stats are trending downwards.
Last season with Real Madrid, Ronaldo was only guilty of 1.3 bad controls per game. Errors, if you will. But he has made almost twice as many errors this season, with 2.5.
5: His average match performance score has dropped significantly
Whoscored.com also grades players on a game-by-game basis. It ranks them on relevant data for their position. For Ronaldo, this includes dribbles, chances created, shots, and, of course, goals. The site then provides overall seasonal rankings. Taking into account Champions League appearances only, Ronaldo scored an excellent 8.7/10 match performance for the 2013-2014 season, and 8.1/10 for each of the seasons from 2015-2018 when Real won a hat-trick of Champions League trophies.
But now Ronaldo is riding a forgettable and unremarkable average of 7.1 when competing against the elite in European soccer. The ranking was pulled lower because of the red card he received just 29 minutes into his first ever Champions League appearance for Juve back in September last year, but he has not once scored higher than a 7.62.
It is a decline of 18.1% in five years, and could mean Ronaldo scores as low as 6.85 next year, or 6.35 when he is in the final year of his Juventus contract. These are sub-par scores.
Ronaldo is clearly past his prime
As Ronaldo is 34, it should come as no surprise that he is past his prime as a professional athlete.
But there is a saying in other sports, combat sports in particular, that every great fighter has one last great fight in them. Nobody perhaps encapsulated this more than “Sugar Ray” Robinson, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, when he returned to the ring in 1955 after a three-year retirement to regain the world middleweight title in 1957 before finally calling it quits for good in 1965.
Ronaldo, frequently seen as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, will need to roll back the years if he is to do what he was signed by Juventus to do on Tuesday, as the Italians attempt to beat Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16.
Ronaldo was largely ineffective in the first leg last month, as he hit seven shots but walked off the pitch with no goals. Juventus was beaten 2-0 and surrendered the advantage to Atletico ahead of Tuesday evening’s second leg in Turin, Italy.
Whether it’s his age or distractions off the pitch – he’s been accused of rape, allegations which he denies, and has also faced tax charges which he laughed off and paid – Ronaldo is a shadow of his former self, and only has one real chance left to prove the doubters wrong and show that his declining statistics are a mere blip.
But should he fail to score again against Atletico, reinforcing the trends seen above, it proves one thing: Ronaldo the great is no more, replaced, perhaps forever, by Ronaldo the average.
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