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Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.
One of his most celebrated strikes undoubtedly took place 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.
On a wintry evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth were in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.
Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top flight, was the difference.
After giving Manchester United the lead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up three minutes later, just less than 30 yards from goal.
His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and curled remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.
That goal is often regarded as the quintessential Ronaldo free kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.
But is Ronaldo actually as good a free-kick taker as that goal suggests? Using Opta data, looked at Stats Perform.
Quantity, not quality?
From that goal against Portsmouth to the day his second spell at United ended (23 November 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That’s from 700 club games, across spells at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
On the face of it, that goal tally doesn’t stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo has netted a total of 619 times.
Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with Barcelona’s superb tally on 51 occasions from such situations.
That gives Messi an 8.1 percent conversion rate from free kicks in that time frame, as opposed to Ronaldo’s 6.3 percent.
Of course, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always line up when it comes to set-pieces, especially a free-kick in a dangerous position.
Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a clubmate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts a better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).
Neymar’s 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him a success rate of 8.8 per cent, while James Ward-Prowse’s 12 per cent (15 from 125, although of course this figure does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) almost doubles is Ronaldo managed.
Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe’s five major leagues who scored 10 or more direct free kicks between 31 January 2008 and 23 November 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.
Club by club
So, having established that Ronaldo’s free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic after that surprise against Portsmouth, let’s take a look at how he performed at each club.
Over his career in Europe’s top five leagues, Ronaldo has taken 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).
Thirteen of these goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons from his first spell at the club.
Indeed, Ronaldo’s free-kick peak was certainly between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of set-piece situation.
His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first in Madrid.
From 2014-15, he failed to score more than three free-kick goals during a season, while scoring just twice from 86 such attempts at Juve, and failed to score from four free-kicks in his second spell at United.
One of the greats?
As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has plenty of other memorable free-kicks in the bank.
His stunning 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerizing strike from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that mesmerizing hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.
Ronaldo may have been boiling over from dead balls since the rush days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, but there’s no doubt that when he hits them where there isn’t much any goalkeeper can do.
Although he doesn’t go down statistically as one of the greatest free kick takers in history, he has certainly been a scorer of some great free kicks over the years.
And who knows, maybe there will be more in Saudi Arabia.