How Cristiano Ronaldo built himself into ultimate goal machine

Breaking records has become routine for Cristiano Ronaldo throughout his extraordinary career.

While his haul of five Champions League titles and five Ballon d’Or gongs sits high on his list of accomplishments, the 35-year-old is now on the cusp of what might be his proudest achievement.

After scoring twice against Udinese at the weekend, the Juventus star eclipsed the great Pele to go into second place in the list of all-time top goalscorers.

Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo is on the cusp of reaching goalscoring immortality this week

Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo is on the cusp of reaching goalscoring immortality this week

The Juventus striker hit goals number 757 and 758 in a 4-1 win over Udinese last Sunday night

The Juventus striker hit goals number 757 and 758 in a 4-1 win over Udinese last Sunday night

THROUGH THE YEARS 

2002 – 5

2003 – 1

2004 – 14

2005 – 15

2006 – 24

2007 – 34

2008 – 35

2009 – 30

2010 – 48

2011 – 60

2012 – 63

2013 – 69

2014 – 61

2015 – 57

2016 – 55

2017 – 53

2018 – 49

2019 – 38

2020 – 42

2021 – 2

He moved to 758 career goals, and now only Josef Bican – the Austrian-Czech striker who played between 1931 and 1955 – is ahead of him.

Ronaldo needs one goal in the clash with Serie A’s fifth-placed side Sassuolo on Sunday night to draw level with Bican’s tally of 759. Score a brace, and he will pull clear in his own right as the greatest goalscorer of all time.

His great rival, Lionel Messi, will have something to say about that in the future, of course. The Barcelona star has 715 career goals for club and country but has played just under 150 games fewer so far and, being two years Ronaldo’s junior, has time on his side. 

Ronaldo’s numbers aren’t just stacked by his favoured right foot. He scores six of every 10 goals with his right boot, but almost two in 10 with his left and two in 10 with his head. One goal came off his elbow, against Athletic Bilbao in the 2014-15 season, and another rebounded in off his groin for Manchester United against West Ham in 2008.

Unsurprisingly the majority of his goals have come from open play – 569 of them, a stonking 75 per cent. Penalties account for 18 per cent of his goals, while he has scored 56 from free kicks.

Ronaldo is one goal from equalling Czech striker Josef Bican's (above) record of 759 goals

Ronaldo is one goal from equalling Czech striker Josef Bican’s (above) record of 759 goals

Ronaldo has now overtaken Brazilian forward Pele (above) - who scored 757 career goals

Ronaldo has now overtaken Brazilian forward Pele (above) – who scored 757 career goals

And home comforts don’t skew the numbers either. Only 54.75 per cent of his goals have been scored in home fixtures, while 40 per cent have come on the road.

HOW THEY WENT IN 

Right Foot – 490 (64.64 per cent)

Left foot – 135 (17.81 per cent)

Head – 131 (17.28 per cent)

Hand/arm – 1 (0.13 per cent)

Other – 1 (0.13 per cent) 

Open play – 569 (75.07 per cent)

Penalties – 133 (17.55 per cent)

Free Kicks – 56 (7.39 per cent)

Home – 415 (54.75 per cent)

Away – 304 (40.11 per cent)

Neutral – 39 (5.15 per cent)

Neutral grounds – international tournaments, cup finals – have accounted for 39 goals, a touch over five per cent. 

But the secrets behind Ronaldo’s remarkable record mean that, even well into his mid-thirties, he could feasibly still have another five years in him at the top level.

He has shown little sign of slowing down; instead he has refined his game from being a dynamic all-round superstar into the ultimate goal machine. 

In 2018 he insisted that he actually has a ‘biological age’ of 23, and claimed ‘I can keep playing until I’m 41’. 

He may not be as fast as he once was – halting the inevitable passage of time remains beyond his powers, but he has taken steps to make sure he is always extracting as much as he can out of himself.

In 2019 he began working on his sprinting with Nigeria-born Portuguese athlete Francis Obikwelu, who was a silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, clocking 9.86 seconds in the Athens 100m final.

Ronaldo’s dedication to his art, and his obsession with self-improvement, underpins his incredible longevity. He has long followed a clear plan that has kept his super-human fitness at such levels. Built on three pillars, it consists of: Pilates-based gym work; rest and recuperation; and diet and hydration.  

Earlier in his career there were fears his gym routine and failure to rest were a threat to his fitness. 

But he has learned how to recharge and recuperate.

Ronaldo's dedication to goalscoring has seen him adopt a painstaking fitness plan

Ronaldo’s dedication to goalscoring has seen him adopt a painstaking fitness plan

In 2019 he worked on his sprinting with 100m Olympic silver medalist Francis Obikwelu

In 2019 he worked on his sprinting with 100m Olympic silver medalist Francis Obikwelu

TOP 10 GOALSCORERS OF ALL TIME 

Josef Bican – 759

Cristiano Ronaldo – 758

Pele – 757

Lionel Messi – 742

Romario – 734

Gerd Muller – 720

Ferenc Puskas – 706

Eusebio – 615

Ferenc Deak – 558

Arthur Friedenreich – 554

*Official goals only. Some totals are disputed.

Much of that recuperation takes place in the water. After every game Ronaldo goes for a swim to help him unwind and work the upper body muscles.

There is more water therapy with hot and cold water baths to stimulate muscle regeneration, a high-pressured water jet to massage muscles, and a walk-in cryotherapy chamber, worth £50,000, that he had installed in 2013, after hearing how it had worked wonders for Franck Ribery.

The liquid nitrogen emitted reaches temperatures of between minus 160 and minus 200 degrees Celsius – bearable for about three minutes but with huge regenerative dividends.

Much of his core strength, which has helped give him the ability to leap and hang in the air, comes from daily trips to the gym, strict adherence to rest and recovery, and Pilates.

That jumping ability has become a hallmark of Ronaldo’s game. In 2019 his gravity-defying header for Juventus against Sampdoria saw him jump 2.56 metres and remain suspended in the air for 1.5 seconds.

It left his then manager Maurizio Sarri in awe. ‘What did I think when I saw Ronaldo’s goal? I thought, ‘F***, what a goal!’,’ he said.

‘I say, ‘F***’ because if I said, ‘Damn’ it wouldn’t be fair towards the goal.’  

Ronaldo developed into a goalscoring phenomenon at Manchester United

Ronaldo developed into a goalscoring phenomenon as a young player at Manchester United

He then hit new heights while he conquered Europe with his Real Madrid team-mates

He then hit new heights while he conquered Europe with his Real Madrid team-mates

Ronaldo jumped 2.56 metres and was in the air for 1.5 seconds for a header against Sampdoria

Ronaldo jumped 2.56 metres and was in the air for 1.5 seconds for a header against Sampdoria

Ronaldo has mastered the art of heading the ball over the years, and almost developed his own trademark.

In the 2008 Champions League final he soared through the air to divert Wes Brown’s cross past Petr Cech for Manchester United. He seemed to ‘hang’ mid-air, like Michael Jordan over the basketball hoop.

In 2011 his remarkable technique was analysed in a documentary – Ronaldo: Tested to the Limit. It showed he had three per cent less body fat than a supermodel and a thigh circumference of 61.7cm. He could run 25metres in just 3.61 seconds.

Ronaldo has won five Champions League titles, including four while in Madrid

Ronaldo has won five Champions League titles, including four while in Madrid

He also scored his 100th goal for Portugal last year. He won the 2016 European Championship

He also scored his 100th goal for Portugal last year. He won the 2016 European Championship

These – allied with leg muscles that have been so well developed and maintained – factored into his ability to climb so high in the air. When he steps into a jump and uses his hands to gain extra elevation, he can jump as high as 78cm – seven cm higher than an average NBA player.

Ronaldo has honed that technique to get the best out of his physical attributes. He brings his legs and knees up during a jump, tucking them beneath his backside. It raises his centre of gravity and acts to give the impression that he is hanging in the air.

The relentless pursuit of excellence in all fields has seen Ronaldo develop such mastery over his weaker foot and his heading ability. That devotion to bringing the best from himself underscores his journey towards the cusp of immortality.

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