Matt Jones lauds Cristiano Ronaldo's goalscoring feats but fears his obsession with numbers opened an unbridgeable emotional gap between player and fans
It’s a dazzling array of names, some of the greatest to ever play the game let alone for the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo can count himself among them. He sits above them all as Los Blancos greatest ever goalscorer. But he is perhaps unlikely to ever surpass the likes of Raul and Di Stefano in the fans’ eyes as the club’s best ever player.
The Portuguese powerhouse brought the curtain down on a quite sublime nine-year stay on the Santiago Bernabeu stage on Tuesday as he turned his attention to Turin.
Debate has long raged among Madridistas and mainstream football fans alike as to who is Madrid’s greatest player.
In terms of goals, Ronaldo stands alone, with 450 mercilessly plundered since he was plucked from the Premier League in 2009.
Yet, some say a lack of emotional bond between the Bernabeu faithful and their shining white knight leaves an invisible yet unbridgeable gap separating fan and phenom.
In terms of what he’s brought to the club – 15 trophies, including four Champions League titles and three in a row from 2016-18 to extend Real’s stranglehold on the European Cup with 13 in all – Ronaldo has few peers.
And, please, let’s just look at the numbers. Of the six players to score more than 200 goals for Los Blancos, Ronaldo’s record is whiter than white.
His 450 strikes in just 438 games means he scored a goal every 1.02 games. Only Hungarian heavyweight Puskas comes close with his 242 in 262 games, scored at a seismic rate of 0.92.
Di Stefano’s 307 in 396 outings (0.77), Hugo Sanchez’s 208 in 282 (0.73), Santillana’s 289 in 645 (0.44), even Bernabeu boy wonder Raul’s 323 in 741 (0.43), pale in significance.
The goals scored by the other five totals a gargantuan 1,369. Ronaldo’s tally is 33 per cent of that. A third of the goals five other stellar strikers netted combined.
He finishes with 127 more than Raul’s 323, having played 303 fewer games. And only Puskas spent less time at the club.
Ronaldo surpassed Raul nearly three years ago. He went on to ripple the net another 126 times to set a record that even a club more famous than any at establishing and passing milestones, someone will find it impossible to ever break.
The sextet are fairly even when it comes to trophies won, with Raul and Santillana lifting 16 – one more than Ronaldo and Di Stefano, while Puskas and Sanchez both won 10.
Ronaldo is a goal glutton and his insatiable appetite has served Real well. It is his everlasting duel with arch nemesis Lionel Messi though which both sets him apart yet also prevents Madrid fans from truly embracing him.
The duo have held a duopoly on the Ballon d’Or for the last decade – both claiming the award five times since Kaka won in 2007. In the midst of their brilliance and dominance, however, boredom has crept in. After all, is empathy in football not a crucial, the most crucial, element?
Meanwhile, Raul’s emotional attachment with the Madrid fans, coupled with the decisive goals he scored, launched him into their hearts as well as the record books.
Like Ronaldo he came from humble beginnings. He was shy and an introvert at heart – the very antithesis of Ronaldo – which led to an incredibly strong emotional link with supporters.
The fact he was Spanish and a local boy meant even more to them and his nicknames say everything about his standing at the Bernabeu. ‘Mister Raul Madrid’, ‘El Capitan’.
His emergence during the 1994/95 season was symbolic in many ways. Not only was he the youngest player to make his senior debut – aged 17 years and 124 days – but replacing Emilio Butragueno signalled a passing of the torch from one legend to someone destined to follow.
Nine goals were registered in 28 appearances to help Madrid lift the title in his first season. It broke Barcelona’s four-year monopoly on the domestic championship and paved the path to both individual and collective glory.
He scored in the Champions League finals of 2000 and 2002, becoming the first player to net in two, as Real returned to prominence both at home and on the continent.
He is seen by many as Madrid’s second favourite son, only to Di Stefano, who is held in such regard because he was the first true Madrid magician. He was by no means the last, but he was that true breakout star.
He laid the foundations for the behemoth of a club they have become today.
Di Stefano’s legendary contributions to Madrid’s early successes included seven European Cup final goals across five consecutive finals as Los Blancos whitewashed the inaugural years of the competition, hoisting the first five trophies from 1956-60.
Like Ronaldo he was something of an outsider, an Argentine. But after winning six caps for La Albiceleste in 1947, the Buenos Aires-born forward switched allegiance to Spain in 1956 – three years after joining Real – and would go on to rifle in 23 goals for La Roja in 31 caps, including a hat-trick on debut.
Ultimately, Ronaldo occupies the number one spot in the archives, but unfortunately not Madridistas’ hearts.
His obsession with numbers seems he is destined to be remembered as just one of many. It’s a little sad. But it’s the path Ronaldo picked for himself. His bags are packed and he will now tread one final track to Turin.