It was a strange bit of footage, certainly. Alvaro Arbeloa slid in to tap home a goal for Real Madrid, their third, against a beleaguered Almeria. And there, arriving just a few moments too late, was Ronaldo. As Arbeloa peeled away in joy, Ronaldo kicked the ball back into the net, frustrated. Then, later, he was seen shaking his head, as if Arbeloa had cost the team, not just him personally, a goal. Yes, very strange, though if you know Ronaldo (or at least the talk of his supreme levels of egotism) then the scene may come as less of a surprise.
Arbeloa was typically diplomatic when he was asked about Ronaldo’s reaction. “Cristiano’s behaviour didn’t bother me. He’s just hungry to score. His battle with Messi to be top scorer is heating up”. Indeed, with Messi just two goals behind him, Ronaldo is obviously keen to snap up any goalscoring opportunity he can. And this affair came just before Ronaldo’s latest superhuman achievement. No, it isn’t his record-setting registering of a hat trick against the same opponent for the fifth consecutive season (Sevilla), though that is a noteworthy feather in his cap, to be sure. And it isn’t his effortless passing of Alfredo di Stefano to become the leading hat-tricker for Los Blancos either. No, it was his record-breaking fifth season scoring more than 50 goals. Pele had four such seasons. Messi has had four as well, so far. Gerd Muller only had a paltry two 50-goal seasons.
You don’t become the modern era’s most relentless goalscorer without the sort of mindset that led Ronaldo to behave in they he did against Almeria. It has become clear over his remarkable five years at Real; Ronaldo is in it for the goals, they are the most tangible, the most decisive statistic to accumulate. He has evolved fully now from the lanky, flashy winger he began as at Manchester United. He’s now the exemplar footballer, certainly from the perspective of pure, inarguable productivity.
This is, in part, a reflection on the state of La Liga over the past 5 years. In early April, Real obliterated Granada 9-1 and Ronaldo scored five goals. It’s incredible to say, but, had he really been clinical with his finishing, he might have had seven or eight. Remarkably lopsided scorelines are fairly frequent when Real or Barcelona take on low-table opposition (Barca flattened Cordoba 8-0 just a few nights ago). The staggering inequity between the big two and the rest (you might hesitantly exclude Atletico Madrid from “the rest”) balloons Messi and Ronaldo’s goalscoring tallies, without doubt, but Real and Barca have always been juggernauts compared to the majority of the other Spanish clubs. In that match against Granada in April, the game was over in what felt like a few minutes after it began, with Ronaldo’s first half hat trick and Bale’s tight finish giving Real a 4-0 lead at the break. Most managers would sit back, maybe take off their important players and coast until the final whistle. Not Real, though, they seem acutely aware of Ronaldo’s own personal goal campaign, so they were merciless. Attack after attack, bludgeoning the prone Granada corpse, they bolstered Ronaldo’s Golden Ball tilt. As the rout progressed, it became utterly obvious why head-to-head goal difference is preferenced by the Spanish league in the event of a points parity; for Granada, this mortal blow to their overall goal difference meant little, as long as they avoided similar results against their direct relegation rivals.
So, here we sit, all numbed into a sort of fuzzy haze by the goals, the constant hat tricks, the massive margins of victory. We’ve almost taken it for granted that Ronaldo should score as he does, at over a goal per game since moving to Spain. But, historically speaking, the figures are truly astonishing, and his latest achievement is one that, it appears, only Messi has any chance of bettering. At its most basic level, the game is about goals, and who scores more of them. It may be selfish – and it is – for Ronaldo to fly into a strop over Arbeloa sneaking in and stealing one of his precious goals It may the act of a grotesque ego – and it is – for him to perversely pummel Granada for his own personal tally. But it is nonetheless staggeringly impressive. There simply has never been a goalscorer like him, so finely distilled, so relentlessly honed, so focused on the ultimate impact.