Ok, well, I don’t really hate them. I don’t think you can be a real football fan if you hate them. For example, some aspects of Ronaldo’s character do get on my nerves from time to time, but I can’t stay ignorant of the fact that the dude is a footballer of a historic caliber, and I feel really grateful that I had the opportunity to follow his whole career.
But still, having said that, I do hate them in a way. Or actually, I hate their truly mind-fucking goalscoring numbers, which really changed the way we look at other players, past and present.
One of the many fetishes that I have is browsing through Wikipedia and looking at the statistics of different footballers. Wiki is a truly great site, and it has much stats-related information. I love looking at the tables with all the appearances and goalscoring data, and in several cases they also have assists data. Unfortunately, in Messi’s case – they don’t :-(.
Now, we’ve known some great goalscorers in the past, and I’m not even talking about Gerd Müller, Pele or Ferenc Puskas. I’m talking recent times. Andriy Shevchenko, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry, the original Ronaldo, and many more. They, and many more, who will be mentioned later, were all great strikers who scored hundreds of goals for their teams. And in the present we also have some great scorers, in the likes of Sergio Agüero, Zlatan, Radamel Falcao, and several others.
Now, how many goals does a striker needs to score in a season in order for it to be considered a good season? I always had this rule of thumb, that a reasonable striker must maintain a ratio of 0.4 goals per game, a good striker a ratio of 0.5 goals per game, and an excellent striker must score 0.67 goals per game. If we translate that to sheer goals, then a 20 goals season (league only) is good, and a 30 goals season is superb. Anything more than that is a bonus.
Of course, it all depends on the number of games. If the player’s team has also taken part in cups, domestic and continental, his tally can go up. If he manages to score 40 goals overall in a season, then this season is one for the ages. 50 goals? Well, that’s unobtainium (sorry, James Cameron), right? Well, maybe it is, but one must be crazy to score THAT amount of goals. I mean, Henrik Larsson did manage to score 53 goals in 50 games, back in the 2000-01 season, but he played for Celtic, in the Scottish league. Surely one can’t reach that amount if one plays in one of Europe’s top leagues?
Well, that was true, until Messi and Ronaldo came.
It’s funny, I remember reading about Messi back in 2004 and 2005. He was touted, like many Argentinian players before him, as the next Maradona. Ronaldo? Well, he was a major talent as well, but being a couple of years older than Messi, he achieved stardom a bit earlier, guiding Manchester United to the Champions League title back in 2008, scoring an amazing amount of 42 goals in 49 games in the 2007-08 season. Damn!
I bet no one would have believed that this season would not be Ronaldo’s best, after he scored a “mere” 26 goals in 53 games in the next season.
Anyway, in the summer of 2009 Ronaldo was transferred to Real Madrid in what was then the most expensive transfer ever. And then he started what is probably the most prolific 5-years period in modern day football. Well, probably and not surely, because incidentally, Lionel Messi started an amazing 5 years of his own at exactly the same time.
Messi’s 2008-09 season (Ronaldo’s last at Manchester United), was enormous by any standard – 23 goals in 31 league games, and 38 goals in 51 games overall. Damn! And once again, my jaw would have dropped if you told me then that this season wouldn’t go down as one of Messi’s top 5 seasons! I would have used all my Psychology power to lock you up in an asylum. Unfortunately, though, Cognitive Psychologists don’t have that much power, and so my plan would’ve failed, but never mind that now.
But it would turn out that the best is indeed yet to come. Check out Ronaldo’s and Messi’s statistics for the 5-year period starting with the 2009-10 season. This data, as well as all other data that will appear here, was collected via the awesome Wikipedia:
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
I’ve seen those numbers many times, and yet I still can’t believe what I’m seeing. Are those numbers for real?! I must’ve added some 50 goals to each of them by mistake, let me check… Nope, it looks like those are the real numbers. Wow. And again – WOW.
It’s hard to believe, but yes – these mind-blowing numbers have become the standard in recent years. We’ve been spoiled so much by them that many pundits perceive Messi’s last season, a season in which he scored 41 goals in 46 games, mind you – as a “weak” season. Those pundits need to refresh their memories, because we haven’t seen anything like those numbers in many, many years.
Sine when 50 goals a year has become a standard?! And yet, Ronaldo topped that amount in each of his last 4 seasons, and Messi managed to score that amount of goals in ONLY THE LEAGUE MATCHES of the 2011-12 season. What in the name of all fucks?!
I mean, an average of more than a goal per game?! We’ve seen those kind of averages when we looked at the data for those legendary players back in the 50’s and the 60’s! I never thought that we might be witnessing them again!
Let’s go back to the best strikers of the modern era and see how they pale in comparison to these two bionic creatures.
For example, take Andriy Shevchenko. This Ukrainian forward was one of my favorite players for over a decade. I liked him ever since I saw him play for Dinamo Kiev back in the 90’s. Then he got transferred to Milan, which is one of my two favorite clubs. He became Milan’s top scorer and top player, and won the Ballon D’Or, the highest individual award possible for a footballer. Shevchenko was a great forward, the best in the world for a certain period of time, in my opinion. But, in his most prolific season for Milan he scored 24 goals in the league, and 34 overall (in 51 matches), in the 2000-01 season. He did have a more prolific season for Dinamo Kiev, scoring 33 goals in 41 matches during the 1997-98 season, but still – those numbers are a far cry from Messi’s and Ronaldo’s totals.
And what about Ruud van Nistelrooy? The guy was a goal machine for every club he played for, and he held the record for most goals scored in a single Champions League season with 14 goals in a mere 11 games, in the 2002-03 season. During that season, which was arguably the best in his career, the amazing Dutchman scored a mind-fucking 44 goals in 52 games for Man United. This was a truly amazing amount for that time. And yet both Messi and Ronaldo had better seasons…
Incidentally, van Nistelrooy was born on the same day as another great Dutch striker – Patrick Kluivert. Kluivert rose to fame earlier, but I always considered Ruud to be the better player. Nevertheless, Kluivert enjoyed several successful years at Barcelona, and he left just before young Lionel bursted onto the scene. Now, Patrick was always a decent scorer, but his best haul for Barca was a mere 25 goals in 48 matches (2000-01), and while in Ajax he had better seasons in terms of goals per game (21 goals in 37 games for the 1994-95 season), this is a record for a good striker, not a legendary one.
Ok, we talked about van Nistelrooy, but what about the player that overshadowed even the great Ruud while he played in the English Premier League? I’m talking about Thierry Henry, of course. The great Frenchman is still playing, although he’s already in the twilight of his career. During the 8 years he played for Arsenal he became the club’s all-time top goalscorer, and he will forever be a Highbury legend. Henry was a great striker, and he was the top scorer of the Premier League 4 times! His most impressive year was 2003-04, when he scored 30 goals in the league (in 37 matches), and 39 overall (in 51 matches). Impressive, but if he were Messi, people would be writing him off and calling him to hang up his boots.
Speaking of the Premier League, what about Alan Shearer? The great English striker is Premier League’s all-time top scorer, and during his career he scored 283 league goals (in 559 games). Now, Shearer was awesome, don’t get me wrong, but both Messi (249 goals) and Ronaldo (277 goals) are closing in on his overall tally, and they are much younger than he was when he quit playing. Plus, during Shearer’s best season, 1995-96, he scored 37 goals in 48 matches. It’s not even close…
Ok, it’s time to bring out the big guns! I give you… Ronaldo the original!
Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, or simply Ronaldo, was a childhood idol of mine. He was a true phenomenon, the best player I’ve ever seen until that point in time. As he grew older, injuries got the better of him, and although he did had an all-time great career, it could have been even greater. Nevertheless, Ronaldo retired as the all-time top scorer in the World Cup (until Klose overtook him a few of months ago), and as a two-time recipient of the Ballon D’Or. His best year in terms of goals and overall performance was the one he spent at Barcelona, 1996-97. I remember that season. Back then it seemed like he was scoring in EVERY FUCKING GAME. He ended that season with an unbelievable tally of 34 goals in 37 matches in the league, and 47 goals in 49 matches overall, which was really un-fucking-believable. But still, even the mighty Ronaldo failed to crack the “50 goals barrier”, something Messi and Ronaldo easily managed to do more than once.
Well, who did manage to break that barrier? Henrik Larsson, like I mentioned earlier, was able to do so in the 2000-01 season. Larsson’s years at the Scottish club were highly prolific, and when he left he had a tally of 242 goals in 313 matches. Amazing! Unfortunately, this tally is also less than Messi’s (361 goals in 434 games for Barcelona) and Ronaldo’s (269 goals in 257 matches for Real Madrid), and it was also achieved in a much less competitive Scottish league. So, when Larsson scored those 53 goals in 50 matches, we were all in awe, but reminded ourselves that this was only possible because of the Scottish league. Messi and Ronaldo… Well, you get the point by now.
And so it goes. Check out the best seasons of some other top scorers from recent years:
Honestly, no one is even close! The only player who has come close to Messi’s and Ronaldo crazy numbers is Mario Jardel, the great Brazilian scorer who enjoyed his biggest success playing in the Portuguese league. Jardel was a highly prolific scorer, averaging almost a goal per game in the 4 years he played for Porto at the end of the 90’s (166 goals in 169 games). But his greatest year came when he was playing for Sporting Lisbon. During the 2001-02 season, Jardel scored a stupefying amount of 42 goals in 30 matches in the league, and 55 goals in 42 matches overall! Now that’s a true contender right there! Too bad it didn’t earn him a place on the Brazilian squad for the 2002 World Cup. But still, those numbers are fucking awesome! Even Messi and Ronaldo would be glad to add a season like this to their resume. However, while Jardel’s numbers are impressive indeed, one must still remember that he achieved them in the Portuguese league, and scored many of his European goals in the secondary UEFA Cup, while Messi and Ronaldo are constantly playing in the Champions League. And still, Jardel – my hat’s off to you.
So Jardel is the only one who can look Messi and Ronald in the eyes, which is something many of the much bigger names can’t do, like we’ve seen. But what about Messi’s and Ronaldo’s contemporaries? The Zlatan’s and the Agüero’s? Well, let’s have a look at each player’s top two seasons in European football:
|Robin van Persie||2011-12||38||30||48||37|
|Antonio Di Natale||2009-10||35||29||38||29|
Damn, I get dizzy just from reading those awesome numbers! And I don’t know why I put Forlan in the previous table, while David Villa and Luca Toni appear in this one. Maybe it’s because Forlan is not playing in Europe for the last several years, while Villa and Toni did play at Europe’s highest levels last year.
Anyway, you can see that almost all of Europe’s top goalscorers are hovering near the 1 goal per game for their top seasons, but only a couple of them manage to actually record that average. For the bulk of them, their best seasons have averages of around 0.8 goals per game.
50 goals in a season? Give me a break. The closest ones are Huntelaar (48 goals) and Suarez (49 goals). No one had a 50 goals season in the last 10+ years, apart from Messi and Ronaldo, and to remind you – they achieved that several times…
And this is why I hate them! I hate them because they made all the other Europe’s top scorers look like they are some kids who try to compete with the big boys. I mean – look at that last table! Those numbers are really, really great! And yet they pale in comparison to the utterly amazing numbers of Messi and Ronaldo.
Now, we’ve looked at some great scorers from the present and from the recent past. But what about looking a bit further, say back to the 80’s, when we also had some great forwards?
|Marco van Basten||1985-86||26||37||29||37|
Damn, what is it about the 1989-90 season?! Was it like the “year of the forwards”? And why is van Basten the only one with two seasons?! Anyway, we see that some of the great forward in the 80’s did manage to record seasons with a goal per game average, although they didn’t manage to achieve a 50 goals season. If we want to look for players who achieved both criteria, we have to go way back… I’m talking about 40, 50 and 60 years ago. Back then the defenses weren’t like today, and many more goals were scored per game. I’m saying that not to diminish those past achievements, but to simply be aware of that fact. Check it out:
|Alfredo di Stefano||1956-57||30||31||43||43|
Now that’s what I’m talking about! A goal per game AND “50 goals” seasons, exactly what the doctor ordered! (Well, almost. Di Stefano failed to meet the criterion, but Puskas simply didn’t have the opportunuty to play in some more matches) Like I wrote earlier, I remember reading about the amazing stats of those legendary goalscorers from the past, when they were producing a goal per game on a regular basis, and thinking that we will never see anything like that again. But that was before Messi and Ronaldo bursted onto the scene.
Nowadays players play a lot more matches, so it is easier for them to reach the coveted “50 goals” barrier (but like we’ve seen, almost none of them does it). But an average of a goal per game is something that we can easily compare across generations of footballers. When I look at Messi’s and Ronaldo’s statistics, I keep thinking that their crazy numbers are mistakes and that they belong in the 60’s. But no, those numbers are for real and they belong to two great players that we can watch on a weekly basis. Amazing.
And still, I hate them. They made us think that awesome scorers from the recent past were mediocre at best. “30 goals in 40 games? Meh…”. And like I said before, they spoiled us to the point where a season in which they don’t score 50 goals in 45 matches is described by many as a disappointing season. I mean – come on! You can’t really think that, can you?!
This year they already started out strong. Messi scored 7 goals in 9 matches (what a “disappointment”!), and it’s only a matter of days before he becomes, at only 27 years of age, the all-time top scorer of the Spanish league. But Ronaldo is the one who is really on fire this year. As of today he scored an unrealistic amount of 17 goals in just 11 games.
So let’s enjoy those two players while we can. They ain’t gonna last forever, you know. Messi is 27 and Ronaldo is 29. How long can they continue racking up goals like Kohei Uchimura racks up world All-Around titles? In a few years it’ll all be over and we’ll all be left with the memories and their unreal goalscoring records. But until then – vamos Messi, vamos Ronaldo! Do what you do best.
Damn it, I don’t even hate them so much now…
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