There is perhaps too much going on in World football these days to fully appreciate just how lucky we are to be football fans in an era where one of the most statistically efficient players in the history of the sport is dominating the game in way that is unparalleled. Trickle down history and go down the list of greats before the Messi / Ronaldo age: From Ronaldinho and Zidane, all the way back to Pele and Di Stefano.
It would be a list littered with greatness from all angles. There are defining players in each era - players who revolutionize the game with a specific style to go along with the ever evolving game. But as defining and memorable as some eras were, never have we had an era defined by players quite as efficient as the future legends that are defining it now.
Lionel Messi - a player that will almost assuredly be noted as the greatest ever by the time he retires - will leave his mark in an unprecedented way. But if we're talking about pure statistical efficiency, Cristiano Ronaldo is an enigma that will forever leave future football historians marveled at the numbers they've seen. Years ago, a striker could net 30 goals in all competitions and it would be a rare occurrence and big reason to celebrate. Today, Ronaldo can grab that in half of a season - and nobody bats an eye. Such is the standard of Ronaldo's supremacy.
Just how many players in football history have scored more goals than games played for their club? Raul, the son of Madrid and leading goal-scorer in club history, had a goal-scoring ratio of .43 for the club. Cristiano has smashed that. Ronaldo is ten goals away from tieing Raul's record, needing 400 or so less games to get there.
Just think about that last sentence, because it's absolutely astonishing.
Madridistas could probably come to the conclusion six years ago, that one day a wonder kid might come up through the ranks and break Raul's record by the time his career is over. No one could predict though, that one man would be signed and get it done in six years, and from a deeper position on the field.
Other prolific goal-scorers in the club's history:
- Hugo Sanchez - .73 goal-scoring ratio
- Ferenc Puskas - .92 goal-scoring ratio
- Carlos Santillana - .37 goal-scoring ratio
- Alfredo Di Stefano - .76 goal-scoring ratio
If you had to use one word to describe Cristiano Ronaldo's game, it would almost certainly have to be 'efficient'. He is not the most graceful player nor to most as aesthetically-pleasing as some of his predecessors, but his numbers speak for themselves.
What is most interesting about Ronaldo is his evolvement as a player. He's grown year by year, in the most remarkable way. That is perhaps, the strongest indication of his work ethic - a trait that his managers have all raved about in the past.
Beyond the glamour of Ronaldo's persona, lies a skillful predator matched with a diligent attitude.
But as he continues to evolve, he becomes more and more direct and less melodramatic. The frequency drop in his 40 yard canons has become clear, and his superfluous step-overs have become sparse. Ronaldo's hat-trick against Armenia nearly a fortnight ago gave us a glimpse of the vintage Ronaldo we don't get to see often - a top-corner screamer from outside the box.
But the reality is that most teams won't give Ronaldo the kind of space Armenia did during that goal, hence Ronaldo's adaptation and evolution as a footballer - an evolution that will see him play higher up the pitch as years go by. At the age of 30, Ronaldo has learned to make the best use of opposing defenses that focus on double-marking him on the wings and give him little room to work with. He's feasting on more traditional goals from inside the box. According to Whoscored.com, in the 2014-2015 season, Ronaldo's shots per 90 minutes have dropped, as have his shots from outside the box - but his shots within the 6-yard box have risen.
It's no secret that Benitez is playing around with the idea of pushing Ronaldo to the striker position which will allow him to focus on scoring, and will allow Benitez to insert a defensive midfielder while pushing Toni Kroos up the pitch.
Just how well would Ronaldo cope with this?
De facto, he's already begun coping, and it's all in his off-the-ball movement.
Of Ronaldo's 61 goals this season, many of them were due to instinctive positioning, reading his team mates, and accepting a ball in the penalty box. Once he gets it there, he's pretty much automatic.
So as to no litter this article with gifs - three examples will suffice. If not playing directly as a central striker, Ronaldo roams in that position freely and scores even more prolifically than a traditional #9. There isn't a player in World Football who can finish better than Cristiano, who's power and speed gets him into goal-scoring positions with ease.
Of course, to transition Ronaldo into a more permanent advanced role requires a star-studded supporting cast, which is already in place. Whether it's the darting run and cut-back from Bale, a sharp through-ball from James, Modric, and Kroos, or a cross from Marcelo and Danilo - Ronaldo is riddled with service. Even a long ball over the top from Ramos or Varane could get Ronaldo in behind the defense. Kroos' hypothetical - and probable - advanced role means that he will be playing a more pivotal role in the offense, which in turn, should provide even more service for Cristiano.
There are nine players on the pitch who can create an opportunity for Ronaldo at any given moment. There is no other team on the planet that can offer that.
Above all, Ronaldo is sublime at making runs from the central position and cutting in behind defenders. He's great at losing his marker and running into space while others in the team stretch the field and pull defenders away from him while he makes his run off the ball. It's in those moments you realize just as how efficient Ronaldo can be from a striker position. He latches on to those through balls with more speed and power than Benzema does, which allows him to pull away from his defender quickly.
The added benefit in all this scrambling, is that it may finally bring out the best in Gareth Bale, who's most lethal position is the left wing - in which he can swing in a killer cross to Ronaldo. In turn, moving Gareth Bale to the left allows James Rodriguez to move to his preferred position on the right. It's on that flank where James made a name for himself in Monaco and inflated his price tag - something that's worked out for Real Madrid beautifully. But if Florentino Perez is purchasing the World's best players, it would be logical to play them in their best positions, i.e Kroos as a central midfielder, Bale on the left, and James on the right.
Pushing Ronaldo up the field is an interesting proposition by Benitez. Dropping Benzema to accommodate this would be a shame, because the Frenchman is so good at holding up the ball and clicking with Ronaldo and Bale; but the reality is that Real Madrid need a cold-blooded killer as their number nine - and there are other players behind Cristiano who can already do what Benzema does.