This article originally appeared in April
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Now into his second season in Turin Ronaldo picked up where he left off, scoring goals. Before the suspension due to the coronavirus, Ronaldo had scored 25 goals in all competitions; 21 in the league (already matching his tally from last season), two in the Champions League and two more in the Coppa Italia. None of those 25 goals however, came from free-kicks. Since the return Ronaldo has scored four goals and, finally on Saturday, one came from a free-kick. His first in Juventus colours, after 43 attempts.

Ronaldo and free-kicks: 55 goals in 18 years

Yet, until recently, Ronaldo had a reputation – a well-deserved one – of being a relentless sniper when it came to placing his free-kicks. In his career, starting from his professional debut in the 2002-03 season with Sporting CP, Ronaldo has scored 55 free-kicks for both club and country. His most prolific season came in 2009-10 where he scored six times from free-kicks for Real Madrid. Below are Ronaldo’s free-kicks scored by team.
TeamFree-kicks scored
Sporting CP (2002-03)0
Manchester United (2003-09)13
Real Madrid (2009-18)32
Juventus (2018-present)1
Portugal (2003-present)9

Cristiano Ronaldo

Image credit: Getty Images

From ruthless to impotent: The last decade

Since that peak in 2010 Ronaldo has never been able to reach the same heights when it comes to free-kicks. He has put in some good performances in some seasons but the drop-off has been extremely severe since 2014. As our colleagues at Eurosport France point out, Ronaldo’s true zenith came almost ten years ago exactly. On February 21st 2010 Ronaldo unleashed a howitzer of such proportions that even if Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez had managed to get to it (which was never happening) he would have been carried into the net. The speed of that free-kick? 101.5 km/h.
Speaking to Canal+ Spain after the game Ronaldo called his shot the Tomahawk, after a cruise missile that is capable of reaching speeds of 880 km/h. From that point things have started going downhill and you have to go back to the 2017-18 season to find his last free-kick goal.
SeasonTeamFree-kick goals
2009-10Real Madrid6
2010-11Real Madrid5
2011-12Real Madrid4
2012-13Real Madrid3
2013-14Real Madrid5
2014-15Real Madrid2
2015-16Real Madrid3
2016-17Real Madrid3
2017-18Real Madrid1
2018-19Juventus 0

A physical or technical problem? Eurosport France weigh in

Our colleagues at Eurosport France have been diving into free-kick data and footage even further in order to try to understand the reasons for Ronaldo’s drop. They think they have figured out a specific turning point.
Where most of the specialists – from Platini to Beckham – prefer precision, Ronaldo has focused on the unpredictability of the trajectory of his attempts. However starting in the summer of 2011, with a friendly against Hertha Berlin, he developed a new technique after studying his previous mistakes. The objective? Less power (with the ball travelling between 70 and 100 km/h) but a different way of kicking, with the inside of the foot and no longer with the neck-toe. That change did not affect the results, which only began to decline three years later, in 2014. This is obviously a physical problem and not technical one. Let us remember that in that period Ronaldo had a muscle injury in the left thigh as well as patellar tendonitis in the left knee.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Image credit: Getty Images

Ronaldo's tendonitis is a real issue, and one that may to begin to affect him even more as he ages. It's an interesting theory for why he has been unable to convert more free-kicks but it doesn't explain why so many keep crashing into the wall.
It's what makes his one on Saturday so beautifully puzzling. It flew over the wall and into the top corner in the perfect arc, leaving the keeper with no chance whatsoever.
Is this a fluke or a sign that something has flicked for Ronaldo? Given he missed one earlier in the game we're not going to hold our breath.

The eternal comparison with Lionel Messi

The numerical comparison with Lionel Messi is also very interesting. It seems as if we always have to put one in front of the other wherever possible but in terms of free-kicks the two are very close. Messi is currently three off his rival at 52 free-kicks scored in his career for Barcelona and Argentina. Plus when you dive into Messi’s recent numbers Ronaldo’s drop-off becomes even more stark. In the last ten years Messi has taken a massive leap forward, scoring 43 of his 52 free-kick goals in the past decade with a high of eight in the 2018-19 season.

Messi lines up a free-kick

Image credit: Getty Images

It's interesting to watch teams try to adjust to ways of dealing with Messi. The recent game against Celta Vigo was a perfect example. The Celta defenders dropped deeper to basically ignore the possibility of an offside trap, but making it more difficult for Messi. The Argentine reacted in typically genius fashion as he simply clipped the ball to Luis Suarez, who gleefully headed home.
With Miralem Pjanic leaving Juventus this summer and, ironically, joining Barcelona, there might be even more opportunities for Ronaldo to extend his advantage over his old rival, even if he wasn't exactly generous towards the Bosnian when a set-piece opportunity presented itself. Who will have more by the time they both retire? Only time will tell?
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