Ronaldo: a Square Peg in a Round Hole.

Maram Per Ninety
4 min readOct 16, 2021


It’s said football’s all about scoring goals. But that reduces the game down to the end product of a longer process. Of course, you want your footballers to score. But you also want them to contribute to the team outside of that narrow aspect. Strikers are there to score goals, yes, but even with the best goalscorers there’s a payoff between goals and the overall structural integrity of the team. What a team needs is a player that can increase their probability of scoring. That measures the player’s contribution not only in terms of the goals he scores in but also what he does for those remaining ninety minutes.

This brings us to Cristiano Ronaldo. This season, Ronaldo hasn’t skimped on the goal-scoring, recording 3 goals in 4 Premier League appearances. But there are those who are questioning what he adds to the team beyond his raw goal production. Let’s have a look at the numbers and see if we can learn anything from them to help us answer these questions.

One way we can start to assess what Ronaldo is doing outside of his goal scoring is to take a look at where he is involved in the play for Manchester United. One aspect to his game that has become obvious as he has got older is that Ronaldo is a player who likes to show for the ball… a lot.

Contrary to what the scruffy goals under his belt might say, he is not a penalty box poacher. He will often drift to the left spaces, United’s most common [or sometimes only] way of progressing the ball to get involved. While it might look like a perfect match at first glance, this Manchester United side is not yet familiar with a striker of his form: a player that demands a significant share of possession. Obviously, there is only one ball, and that’s being taken away from primary creators.

This isn’t a new trend in Ronaldo’s behaviour as a striker. Over the many years of his footballing career, we’ve seen different archetypes of Ronaldos. In his initial phase at United, he was the showpony: flashy tricks and way too little end product. Another Ronaldo then emerged from the raw talent we first witnessed, it was one that realised step overs were not going to score his goals. His tactical development finally flourished as an inside forward in Madrid that was concentrated in the penalty box and just the box.

When he left Madrid, his old habits crept in once again. By the time he joined Juventus, he was a player that rarely tracked back but one that demanded involvement in all aspects of their attacking play. Possession was there to be funnelled through and to him.

This isn’t the player Manchester United fans remember. As a result of his age, he is not the player that will go past defenders with pace and trickery. This means that when he is involved, he’s not actually productive anywhere but shots for himself. With as many minutes he’s played, his involvement in chances created only mounts for one. So, Ronaldo isn’t a striker that will assist his team, but he may be a player that will help his teammates on the ball, right? Yes and no. While he’ll fight for a share of possession, that will most likely not translate to shots for others. What Ronaldo is good at, however, is shots for himself. That is a dynamic United are not quite familiar with yet. For a better United side with Ronaldo, it needs to be a side that is catered to him indefinitely.

Right now, it isn’t. While Manchester United’s insistence on allowing their attacking players positional freedom has had its issues, it also allowed brilliant players to produce brilliant things. But, that was dependent on their on pitch chemistry.

Right now, Ronaldo is the odd one out and has left other players confused on how to interact with a foreign body of his stature. Solskjaer has been working hard on building a system and a style of play that thrived on quick, tricky players. Ultimately though, it’s a system that Ronaldo does not fit in.

Ronaldo has the touch share, turnover share, and positional tendencies of a winger, while demanding the out of possession accommodation of a low work-rate striker. Even if he was a better box threat than Cavani, everything he does outside the box detracts from that given he’s not as good defensively in terms of pressures, tracking back and recoveries. He’s also not the kind of goalscorer whose goal scoring runs disrupt defensive structure to benefit others. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad striker, it means he is a different one than United are used to, or expected.

So, where do United go from here — do they scrap everything and go back to the drawing boards? It remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: something has got to give and that is either Ronaldo or the team.



Maram Per Ninety

A woman who talks, analyze and visualizes football — per ninety.