The Portuguese has netted 55 free-kick goals in his career but his conversion rate has dropped dramatically over the past five years
It’s difficult not to be amused by Paulo Dybala’s reaction to Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus in the summer of 2018.
The Argentine immediately sent a cheeky message to the senior squad’s WhatsApp group chat, saying “Sorry, Mire (Miralem Pjanic), but I don’t think you’ll be taking many free kicks this year.”
Of course, Dybala wouldn’t either.
Ronaldo was renowned as a set-piece specialist and, as the most expensive signing in the club’s history, he immediately occupied centre stage whenever Juve were awarded a free kick within shooting distance.
“We know how it works,” Dybala told the Gazzetta dello Sport in October 2019. “On the left, there’s Cristiano; we just stand there to make for a good photograph!”
Neither Dybala nor Pjanic had any issue with the Portuguese taking precedence over free kicks. Both have repeatedly praised Ronaldo’s set-piece prowess, which is easily done.
Ronaldo has, after all, scored 55 free-kick goals in his career – which is three more than his great rival Lionel Messi.
However, when one delves deeper into the statistics, a different picture develops.
Ronaldo scored 33 free kicks during his nine seasons at Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018 – as many as Barca ace Messi, albeit from slightly more attempts (444 to 419) – but his strike-rate has dropped dramatically in the interim.
There have been two free-kick goals for Portugal since the summer of 2018, including a memorable striker against Spain at the World Cup, but in his last five seasons of club football, Ronaldo has netted just seven in all competitions – and from 136 attempts.
Messi, by contrast, has grown ever more deadly. Thirty of his 52 career free-kick goals have come in the past five years.
The Argentine has had twice as many attempts at club level as Ronaldo during that time but his conversion rate (11 per cent) is still far superior to that of the Juventus forward (5%).
Ronaldo hasn’t just fallen behind Messi either.
Over the past five years, Ronaldo has also been outscored in this area by Neymar (11), Willian (11), Dani Parejo (10), Dimitri Payet (10), Angel di Maria (nine), Aleksandar Kolarov (eight) and Antoine Griezmann (eight) – all of whom have taken at least 43 fewer attempts.
Tellingly, Pjanic (12) and Dybala (11) also rank above Ronaldo for free-kick goals since 2015, which is why many Juventus fans have grown increasingly disgruntled by the pecking order in Turin.
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It’s actually become something of a running joke, with some supporters openly wondering online if Ronaldo receives a bonus for striking the opposition wall, while Pjanic was recently asked in an interview with Tuttosport if the forward even managed to score any in training.
That may be disrespectful towards one of the greatest goalscorers the game has ever seen but the fact of the matter is that Ronaldo has yet to score a single free kick for Juventus since joining from Madrid in July 2018 (Messi has bagged 12 in the same period).
This is in spite of the fact that he’s responsible for 40 of their 78 attempts.
What’s more, there is evidence to suggest that his almost constant presence over any dead ball is actually hurting Juve – or at least significantly lessening the impact of their true set-piece specialists.
Juventus have scored just three free kicks over the past two season and even one of those – Dybala’s most recent strike, against Brescia in February – arguably only came about because Ronaldo wasn’t on the pitch.
It’s also telling in that the season preceding Ronaldo’s arrival, Dybala and Pjanic scored seven free kicks between them, with the forward converting four of 25 attempts, and the Bosnian finding the back of the net with three of his 20 efforts.
Taking free kicks away from the pair has clearly done Juve no favours at all.
Dybala, Pjanic and many fans have long seen the funny side of the situation but it’s actually gone beyond a joke at this stage.
Ronaldo may have once been a good free-kicker taker but he certainly isn’t anymore. The sooner Juventus accept that, the better.