It’s fair to say 2016 couldn’t have gone too much better for Cristiano Ronaldo.
At 31, he ended the calendar year top of La Liga with Real Madrid, and the superstar had just been announced as Ballon d’Or winner for the third time in four years, making him the first European to win the award four times.
He had also won the Champions League with Real Madrid, as well as leading Portugal to an unexpected victory at Euro 2016.
Ronaldo was top of the world, but he must have realised that it was not going to get any better than that.
The Portuguese forward had always relied on his pace to help set him apart from the pack, and as he gets older, that will undoubtedly disappear.
Indeed, if you watch Ronaldo, you could argue that he has indeed lost a yard of pace and is having to adapt his game – he is still a very good player, but he is on the decline.
It happens to every player, and at 32, it looks like Ronaldo is starting his descent from the top of the game.
Ronaldo won’t want to admit it of course, but he probably won’t be too pleased that Real Madrid produced their most fluid performance in recent weeks without him in the 4-1 win against Eibar on Saturday.
The statistics show a decline
If you look at how Ronaldo has performed over the last four La Liga seasons, it is clear that there has been a drop-off statistically.
He was probably at his peak when he scored a ridiculous 48 goals in 35 league games in 2014/15, and since then, there have been a gradual decline.
Both in the 2014/15 season and the previous campaign, Ronaldo averaged more than a goal every minutes, 1.4 in 2014/15 and 1.1 in 2013/14.
But since then, that dropped to 0.99 during the 2015/16 season, and once again so far this season to 0.93.
Averaging 0.93 goals per 90 minutes is by no means bad, it’s hugely impressive – Premier League top scorer Harry Kane is averaging 0.91 so far this season – but it is still a drop off in terms of Ronaldo’s high standards.
And while Ronaldo is not necessarily known for his assists, if you look over the last four season, you can also see a drop in successful output from the superstar.
He made 0.32 per 90 minutes back in 2013/14, before reaching his peak the following season, with 0.47 – nearly one every two games.
But since then, the amount of assists per 90 minutes in La Liga has fallen to 0.31 in 2015/16 and just 0.15 so far this season.
This trend is also clear if you look at the amount of shots per 90 minutes Ronaldo makes.
That peaked back in 2013/14, with an incredible 7.67 per 90 minutes.
That has fallen season on season to 6.54, 6.42 and now 6.02 so far in 2016/17.
And in the same time, his shot accuracy has fallen too – from a high of 54 per cent in 2013/14, to a low of 46 per cent so far this season.
For someone like Ronaldo, whose game is so largely based on pace and skill, having a high percentage of successful take ons is crucial.
That has also dipped this season to the lowest it’s been in the last four seasons – 47.73 per cent.
In the three previous seasons, while Ronaldo was at the top of his game, it was never below 50 per cent.
He is also making a considerable fewer amount of dribbles per 90 minutes – dropping from 4.2 in 2013/14 to just 1.9 this season.
The Real Madrid forward is undoubtedly still one of the best headers of the ball around, as was evident with his late equaliser in the 3-3 draw with Las Palmas a week ago, but even his success rate in aerial duels has dropped.
It was actually at its highest last season at 56.12 per cent, but Ronaldo hadn’t dropped below 50 per cent in either of the previous two campaigns.
Yet so far in 2016/17, his aerial duel success rate is at 47.73 per cent.
He is just generally less involved in the game.
While Ronaldo has never made a huge amount of passes – averaging 33.96 while at the peak of his powers in 2014/15, he has made just 27.24 per 90 minutes so far this season.
Time to adapt
The statistics are pretty undeniable – Ronaldo is definitely experiencing a slowdown in terms of output, but it is understandable, he is now 32.
In the lives of footballers, especially footballers who have pace as one of their key attributes, age is something that eventually catches up with them.
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@TeamCRonaldo) March 4, 2017
He is by no means finished at 32, and some of his stats, especially his goals per 90 minutes are still exceptional, just not as exceptionally ridiculous as they were two seasons ago.
The very best players find a way to change their game, and it’s not like Ronaldo is only based on pace.
Real Madrid by no means think he is finished, handing him a new contract until 2021 in November, which reportedly keeps him as the world’s highest-paid athlete.
But by the time that contract runs out, it will probably be the end of the Portuguese forward’s footballing career, and it looks like we’re starting to see the first signs of his (hopefully slow) decline from the top.