Cristiano Ronaldo: Worth or Flop?
By: Manav Chadha and Jong Hyun Cha
Cristiano Ronaldo was a relatively unknown teenager when he first signed for Manchester United in 2003. Since then, he has developed to become one of the most coveted players in soccer history. During his first stint at Manchester United, Ronaldo won 3 Premier League titles, 1 Champions League title, and a Ballon D’or, a trophy given to the best soccer player of the year. Manchester United and manager Sir Alex Ferguson provided the platform for Ronaldo to grow into arguably the greatest soccer player of all time. This is why Ronaldo chose to come back to Manchester United once he decided to leave Juventus.
At this stage, Ronaldo had won many more trophies including 4 more Champions League titles, 4 more Ballon D’ors, and multiple league titles during his seasons with Real Madrid and Juventus. However, even with his near perfect resume and a transfer fee that amounted to 16.5 million dollars, many had doubts on whether this would be a positive move for Manchester United. People argued that at 37 years old, Ronaldo was too old to perform at his best, and would stunt the development of younger players trying to reach their full potential.
In this article, we wanted to see if Ronaldo’s move back to Manchester United had a positive impact for the club and for the players around him. To do this, we compared the attacking statistics of Manchester United and the team’s attacking players for the first half of the current and last season.
The first attacking statistic we looked at is assists. In order to compare statistics amongst the team's attacking players, we have chosen to include the statistics of Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford.
The statistic above highlights a decrease in assists from 20-21 to the 21-22 season. This could be due to reduction in playing time owing to Ronaldo's arrival. This can be seen in the case of Edinson Canvani and Marcus Rashford. In the case of midfielders such as Paul Pogba, season statistics show that there has been a significant increase in assists, which could be attributed to Ronaldo's ability to make space for himself, and his high goal scoring potential. Most Manchester United fans have probably hoped that Bruno Fernandes would get more assists with Ronaldo’s presence, especially since they have chemistry from the Portuguese national team. These fans may be a little disappointed this season, as Bruno’s assist numbers have dropped a little.
This statistic can be compared to the expected assists per 90 minutes for the 20-21 and 21-22 seasons. As can be seen from the xAssists graph, the expected assists for all players for the 20-21 and 21-22 seasons were higher than the actual assists. The prime cause for this difference could be the importance given to Ronaldo on the field. Opposition’s defenders will most likely be focused on Ronaldo, so his presence alone may create more space for other wingers and midfielders. This does not mean that his impact on the team has been negative, rather, the reduction in other player's statistics have been offset by his splendid performance and increase in goals. From this graphic, we can also see that Bruno Fernandes’ expected assist has decreased, but not by a great amount. He has been continuing to create chances for Ronaldo and others, but these chances just have not been converted into goals.
The next attacking statistic we looked at in order to judge Ronaldo's impact is goals per 90 minutes during the 20-21 and 21-22 seasons. This is where Ronaldo's impact becomes truly apparent, especially in an attacking role and on attacking players. For strikers such as Cavani, who plays in the same position as Ronaldo, the importance given to Ronaldo, especially in terms of playing time has led to a major decrease in goals scored from the 20-21 to the 21-22 season. It is evident that since Ronaldo has settled into the club, it has affected Cavani's performance. However, the impact is not wholly negative. As seen in the graph above, players such as Rashford and Martial who do not play in the same position as Ronaldo, have seen an increase in their goals scored from the season of 20-21 to 21-22. Although difficult to quantify, Ronaldo's presence has shown to be a booster to the performance of younger players.
This statistic can be compared to the xGoals statistic per 90 minutes for both seasons. For Edinson Cavani, the expected goals for the 21-22 season is higher than the actuals goals scored per 90 minutes. While the statistics for goals and expected goals largely line up, the magnitude of expected goals for players such as Martial and Rashford is higher than that for the actual goals. Ronaldo’s presence may allow more space for these players, and hence may be getting more goal scoring opportunities. For Cavani, Fernandes and Greenwood, their expected goals has decreased from last season. Ronaldo may have impacted this, as he may be taking up positions that have more opportunities to score goals when last year it might have been Cavani or Fernandes in those positions.
We’ve seen the stats of players surrounding Ronaldo, but how well has Ronaldo been playing individually? As shown by the visual on the left, Ronaldo has been averaging nearly 0.5 goals per 90 minutes and 0.2 assists per 90 minutes. This may not add up to Ronaldo’s insane previous goal tallies, but these are still great numbers, scoring a goal every 2 games. In that aspect, he has done what Manchester United has brought him on for– being a goal threat.
A comparison of the team statistics shows a decrease in goals and expected goals per 90 minutes, but an increase in shots per 90 minutes. This shows that while Manchester United are taking more shots after Ronaldo’s arrival, they have not been clinical enough with their shooting, and thus their shots result in less goals. The decrease in expected goals also shows that they are not creating enough goal scoring opportunities as before. To test if there was a significant difference in the mean stats between the current and last season, we used a t-test in R. The t-test of the two seasons showed a p-value of 0.2487, which implies that the test is not statistically significant, and we cannot say that the goals and shots . This makes sense for several reasons, but mainly these differences cannot be credited to Ronaldo alone. Manchester United have had a new manager, and have brought on other players too, including Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, not to mention the emergence of Anthony Elanga and the return of Jesse Lingard from loan.
The aim of this article is to determine what kind of an impact Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival has had on Manchester United’s performance as a team, and on individual player growth. After conducting an in-depth analysis of player stats and team stats, it is evident that Ronaldo’s impact swings both ways: positive and negative. Owing to his ability to find himself in goal-scoring positions, assists for midfielders such as Paul Pogba increased considerably after his arrival. However, the rightful importance that he is given as a player, in terms of playing time and decision-making, has potentially had a dampening effect on the growth of his teammates such as Edinson Cavani. Roanldo’s reputation has put him in a superior position to Edinson Cavani, who plays in the same position, leading to a decrease in goals and assists for Cavani during the 21-22 season.
The benefits of his arrival can also be attributed to many other things that don’t show up as numbers. Fans around the world are well aware of Ronaldo’s capabilities as a leader and motivator. Post Ronaldo’s arrival, players such as Marcus Rashford have showcased a boost in their performance, in terms of goals scored. Although it is difficult to attribute the success of young players to Ronaldo alone, his presence has definitely proved to be a morale booster for young players. While Ronaldo’s arrival has been heavily debated by fans around the world, we believe that his impact has been largely positive. Not simply in terms of his performance, but also in terms of the aura his presence holds. It is important to note that we cannot solely attribute Manchester United’s newfound success to Ronaldo’s arrival. It can also be attributed to a change in manager and addition of talented players to the team. All in all, looking at the improvement in Manchester United’s team statistics after Ronaldo’s arrival, we believe that a player of such caliber was definitely worth the price as his impact extends beyond his performance on the field.