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Is Cristiano Ronaldo a good free kick taker?

Let's start with the obvious: Cristiano Ronaldo has scored his fair share of free kicks over the course of his career. The way he takes his free kicks with his signature, cowboy like stance is ridiculed by many but makes him one of the most prolific and feared free kick takers. (I always thought that standardizing your run-up to a free kick is a smart idea).

Possibly the pressure that rests on him and also his own motivation to be the best makes him try every chance he gets. Since Ronaldo plays in La Liga, no other player has attempted as many direct free kicks: 292. Right behind him is, of course, Lionel Messi with 232. After them there is a large gap with Pedro Leon (110) and Daniel Parejo (102) following.
To highlight the monopoly Ronaldo has on free kicks in the Real Madrid team, it is worth looking at other players' tally. Following Ronaldo we have Gareth Bale with 35 attempts and Mesut Ozil with 17. Since Ronaldo arrived at Real Madrid he has taken 71% of their direct free kick attempts.

Ronaldo's converison rate
Cristiano Ronaldo's conversion rate (goals from direct free kicks divided by total direct free kick attempts) is above average. Ronaldo averages 6.51% in La Liga and 9.52% in the Champions League, while the overall averages are 5.37% and 5.89%. Does this make him the best free kick taker in the world?
It depends. In La Liga, Messi has a better conversion rate of 7.76% with a comparable sample size (232 vs 292). And there are other players with outstanding records: there is Beñat Etxebarria with a conversion rate of 11.63% (10 out of 86) and Santiago Cazorla with 13.51% (5 out of 37).
However, you can argue that once it matters, Ronaldo is there: Nobody comes close to his consistency in the Champions League (10 out of 105, conversion rate of 9.52%). Messi only manages a rate of 3.13% (2 out of 64) in Europe. Willian has an amazing record so far (4 out of 8) but he has to prove that he can keep this level.

Ronaldo's favorite free kick positions
Probably for no other player there is more of a case of being too close to goal as for Ronaldo. Ronaldo does not curl the ball over the wall; he smashes the ball with the top of the foot, hoping it lowers itself into the net. For this technique you need space between the free kick spot and the goal. Ronaldo has scored the majority of his free kicks from two relatively small areas in the center left of the pitch and a few yards behind the 18 yard box (see below). For opportunities to the right and closer to the box, he should hand over to a different player. This would improve his conversion rate and probably lead to more goals for his team.

How has Ronaldo's record developed over time?
Ronaldo has started with a bang in his first season at Real. In 09/10 he averaged a conversion rate of 13.33% in La Liga and the Champions League (6 out of 45). SInce then has has been fairly steady around his long-term average, dropping twice below in season 12/13 and 14/15.

I think overall, nobody calling Cristiano Ronaldo the best free kick taker in the world is wrong. With so many other things in his play, he achieves his goal through power, a physical side and his overpowering self-belief. His free kicks are not the most beautiful and technically challenging ones; but he is the most consistent active free kick taker. Maybe in the end his overly dramatic run-up is not just all about the show.


  1. > However, you can argue that once it matters, Ronaldo is there: Nobody comes close to his consistency in the Champions League (10 out of 105, conversion rate of 9.52%).

    Him being consistent in the Champions League does not mean he's there when it's needed. e.g. scoring the 6-1 against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League by a freekick vs scoring the 1-0 against Atletico Madrid in La Liga. A better measure for being there when it matters, would be (imo) to see how often he scores when the team is behind/the team draws or the team is ahead with just 1 goal.

    1. That is a very good idea. I would probably not limit it to free kicks only. But looking at who scores the most 1-0s or the most equalizers/winners would definitely be interesting. Thank you.


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