When Iker Casillas, Madrid’s world-cup winning goalkeeper, was asked recently about the form of his colleague Cristiano Ronaldo, he said, “Well, sure he’s an egoist, but I mean that in the best sense of the word.”
“Egoism,” or “egoista,” in the sense that San Iker was using, connotes a self-centered style of football, where one player will dominate possession or shots over other players.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, especially if you score goals (or your name is “Cristiano” or “Leo”).
So, why are people so quick to attack CR7’s supposed “egoism”?
So far this season, the Portuguese heartthrob has taken 45 shots, 17 on goal, and has scored twice; by comparison, the entire Real Madrid team has 118 shots, with 44 on goal.
That means that CR7 has taken 38% of Real Madrid’s shots (and, oddly 38% of their shots on goal), and scored only 25% of their goals—this seems like a low number considering how much he dominates the total number of shots.
But let’s dive in a little deeper: of the five games los blancos have played so far, CR7 has scored twice; that’s a 0.400 goal/game ratio, which is slightly lower than his career average, but still undoubtedly respectable. He has even had two assists this season, including a beautiful through ball to set up Higuaín against Espanyol on Tuesday.
So why do we label CR7 an “egoist” or a “ball hog”? The answer, oddly, lies outside of statistics: despite the hyping of front-man Gonzalo Higuaín, and the beautiful through balls of German phenom Mesut Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo is the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack!
We forget that Mourinho’s Madrid plays a relatively novel style of football—where the point of attack shifts throughout the game, focusing mainly on Cristiano Ronaldo, wherever he might go. Most attacking maneuvers flow through his boots, no matter where he happens to be on the pitch; the other attacking players are constantly aware of where CR7 is at any given minute, and often try to find him even though there are other options.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Özil will give up a perfect through ball to Higuaín or di María because Cristiano wants the ball—just that Ronaldo will always be the reference point as the team moves forward.
Critics will say that this makes Real Madrid a uni-dimensional team: if their offense flows through one player, then what happens if you shut him down? Well, then other players step up to take his place.
Look at Barça without Messi: they still win games with goals from David Villa or Xavi or whomever. The same goes for los blancos: el Pipita led the team in scoring last year, even though CR7 was the focus of Pellegrini’s attack.
Ronaldo’s “egoist” label has popped up especially in the Spanish media, who accuse him of passing up easier options to take shots himself. While this may have been true on a few occasions, the label itself is based entirely on perceptions: we see him lose possession in midfield, or sky a shot over the bar, and we create an “egoist” narrative in our head.
Statistically speaking, this judgment is totally undeserved—he has looked a bit out of sorts since his injury against Mallorca, but not terrible.
He’s a phenomenal player, and phenomenal players deserve to take tons of shots—case closed.