I know what Cristiano Ronaldo really wants. At least, I think I do.
A lot of the speculation focuses on Cristiano’s motivations. Fans in Manchester dare to dream every time a Sunday rag claims the Portuguese still loves United. Madridistas, on the other hand, take solace from reports that he’ll finish his career with the club he grew up supporting. I believe the key to Ronaldo’s future is a more concrete motivation:
Cristiano Ronaldo thinks it’s possible for him to finish his career as the leading all-time goalscorer at both Manchester United and Real Madrid. Which means he may be eying a move back to Manchester as soon as August.
There’s a long way to go. As it stands, Cristiano’s record in Madrid includes 301 goals. He scored 118 at United. That leaves him behind Raúl (323 goals) at Madrid and Sir Bobby Charlton (249 goals) at Manchester United.
It’s just barely possible, thanks to his five-goal assault on Granada last week, for Cristiano to catch Raúl before the next transfer window closes at the beginning of September. He’ll have 11–16 matches to score the 23 goals required to become Madrid’s all-time leading scorer.
Real Madrid’s schedule between now and then includes a guaranteed 11 matches (seven in La Liga 2014-2015, two in August in La Liga 2015-2016, and two from the upcoming two-legged Champions League quarterfinal with Atletico Madrid). But if Cristiano & Co. successfully defend their Champions League title, they’ll have played three additional matches (a final and a two-legged semifinal), and they’ll have earned the right to play the Europa Cup winners in August’s European Supercup. Meanwhile, if they manage to recover from a two-point deficit to Barcelona and win La Liga, they’ll also participate in the Spanish Supercup against the winner of the Copa del Rey (Barcelona or Athletic Bilbao).
23 goals from 16 matches is a reasonable return for an in-form Ronaldo. 23 from 11 would be more difficult (especially since the lack of extra matches would probably be the result of a struggling Madrid), but certainly possible; Cristiano scored 15 goals in the first seven La Liga matches of this season, after all.
If my suspicions about his ultimate dream are correct, it’s conceivable that Ronaldo will play the last weekend of August knowing he needs a goal or two to clear the way for his return to Manchester.
The Return (or, The Hard Part)
Here are four reasons it’s so important that Cristiano finish the job at Madrid in time to return to England this summer:
- He’s still 132 goals from being United’s top scorer.
- Even though he seems to get better every year, he’s 30 years old and can’t defy time forever.
- Huge goal hauls don’t seem to come as easily in England as they do in Spain. Both Cristiano and his rival Lionel Messi have scored a goal per game for years in La Liga. Nobody does that in England, including Cristiano’s younger self, whose best return was 42 goals from 49 matches in 2007-2008. (Of course, Messi and the present-day Ronaldo are special cases.)
- Wayne Rooney (230 goals in 474 matches) could put United’s all-time record even further out of Cristiano’s reach by the time he retires.
But if the move happens this summer, it’s all possible. Let’s assume Cristiano equals his record United tally of 42 goals (leaving aside his Madrid best of 60) in his first year back. Then let’s assume he scores five fewer goals in each subsequent season as he ages. In this scenario, he’d reach and surpass Sir Bobby’s record in the spring of 2020, at the age of 35.
Considering his fitness level and work ethic, that seems possible, if unlikely.
Cristiano has made no secret of his desire to be counted among the sport’s all-time greats. There could be no more powerful argument in his favor than topping the scoring lists for perhaps the world’s two greatest clubs. There are higher single-club goalscoring records – Messi’s still-increasing 399 goals for Barcelona, Gerd Müller’s ridiculous 525 for Bayern Munich – but there’s no precedent for what Cristiano (maybe) has in mind.
Imagine your reaction if someone had told you ten years ago that one person could be the all-time top scorer for both Real Madrid and Manchester United by 2020. Absurd. But – assuming good health, good luck, and Wayne Rooney’s cooperation – it’s possible now, and it’s the dream that I believe may be driving both Cristiano Ronaldo’s manic scoring and his career decisions. Stay tuned.