Does Cristiano Ronaldo make teams better or worse?

In case you missed the news, where have you been?

Cristiano Ronaldo has told Manchester United he wants to leave this summer. Family reasons have been cited as the cause of his absence, but the Portuguese forward is yet to report for pre-season training as Erik ten Hag assesses his squad.

In theory, United’s new manager should be devastated to lose one of the most prolific forwards to grace the game. However, the overriding feeling might actually be one of relief — Ronaldo’s exit could improve Ten Hag’s chances of building a cohesive team dynamic.

Even at 37, Ronaldo will almost guarantee you goals. But in the twilight of his career, does he improve his team’s chance of success?

Let’s dig into the data and find out.

We can start with the obvious. It is an understatement to say that Cristiano Ronaldo is very good at finding the back of the net.

His tally of 18 league goals for Manchester United last season was actually his lowest since his final campaign at Old Trafford in 2008-09. Before 2021-22, he had scored at least 21 league goals in 12 straight seasons during his time at Real Madrid and Juventus — in seven of those, he scored more than 30.

Including penalties, Ronaldo’s goalscoring record has not dipped below one goal every 180 minutes (ie, two games) since he was 20 years old during the 2005-06 season — a quite outstanding achievement. 

No need to dwell on it — we’re all agreed on the Portuguese’s individual contribution. 

Enter the Cristiano Ronaldo paradox.

As many pundits and fans have highlighted, what Ronaldo adds in individual goals he often takes away from the wider team structure. 

Teams adapt to Ronaldo rather than Ronaldo adapting to the team — and this is not new.

Author: Lucy Green