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Is Cristiano Ronaldo Good At Free Kicks Again?

CR7 has 3 free kick goals in only 19 attempts this season.

Celta Vigo v Real Madrid - Copa Del Rey Quarter-final: Second Leg Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Ronaldo’s free kicks are a loaded topic that many critics have been using to beat on the Portuguese forward for the past couple of seasons. And it hasn’t been all unwarranted, as Cristiano has been pretty poor for awhile now, scoring only 5 free kicks over the past two seasons.

Break those statistics down even further and the things look even worse for CR7, as Ronaldo’s first successful free kick after his strike against Bayern on April 29, 2014 (his 5th free kick goal in the 2013/14 season) was converted 56 efforts afterwards, on April 11, 2015 (nearly a year later) against Eibar (a pitiful conversion rate of 1.79%).

While he did manage another free kick goal in the last matchday of the 14/15 season, he had to wait for a Champions League match vs. Malmo to net another free kick goal in 2015/16. He ended the season with a respectable 3 free kick goals, but with an average conversion rate of 7.5%.

Ronaldo’s Free Kick Stats in 2015/16

Total shots On-target Off-target Into the wall Goals Conversion rate
Total shots On-target Off-target Into the wall Goals Conversion rate
40 10 12 18 3 7.50%

While it was clear that Ronaldo had improved over his horrid 2014/15 campaign, he hadn’t produced a record in 2015/16 that suggested he was still one of the best in the world from set-pieces.

The reason for such a sharp drop-off has a couple of explanations.

One is simply pure stats. There’s an argument to be made that Ronaldo’s 2-year free kick record is simply down to variance - or luck.

When you consider that Ronaldo relies on the potentially devastating and unreliable knuckleball technique, it is easy to see how Ronaldo can endure huge dry spells where he fails to find the back of the net.

However, while the above points may be valid, one cannot ignore other factors like injury. It is probably no coincidence that Ronaldo’s free kick ability dropped off severely after his tendinosis problem late in the 13/14 season.

What is "tendinosis"?

According to, it's a "chronic injury of failed healing". Basically, it's when a lot of tiny tears to the connective tissue around the tendon start to have a cumulative effect on the strength of the tendon. Think pain, think stiffness, think mild swelling around the left knee. It's not to be confused with the more common tendonitis, which involves inflammation of the tendon itself.

What causes it?

Microtears are small-scale injuries that, while not hugely serious in themselves, haven't been given the time to mend that they need. So if, for example, you happened to be a top-class footballer that plays around 60 games a season, often three a week, and most of your opponents spend most of their time kicking you or trying to kick you ... that would probably do it.

- SB Nation Soccer,

As one might expect, having a serious knee injury (with potential long-term effects, considering Ronaldo refused to rest and only made the injury worse) affects your ability to shoot from distance, especially when it comes to shooting with a style that puts immense pressure on your knee.

As noted in the video above, Ronaldo prefers to hit the ball in a whiplash action, something that transfers all of his generated power through his knee joint and onto his foot. While this is a supremely efficient power-hitting model, it also puts immense stress on Ronaldo’s knee, meaning it shouldn’t be all that surprising that his free kicks declined so sharply after his injury.


It seems like Cristiano’s free kicks have changed for the better of late, with Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer picking up his 3rd free kick goal of the season against Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey.

Hold on though. He may have scored 3 free kicks, but surely he’s smacked about 100 into the stands right? Right?!

Apparently not.

Ronaldo’s Free Kick Stats in 2016/17

Total Shots On-Target Off-target Into Wall Goals Conversion Rate
Total Shots On-Target Off-target Into Wall Goals Conversion Rate
19 7 3 9 3 15.79%

Marca has Ronaldo’s conversion rate at 13% (3 out of 23 attempts). They probably included his Club World Cup attempts, which I have not.

Not only does Ronaldo have a strong goal tally, but he also has a world class conversion rate of 15.79%. This is a pretty surprising statistic considering the way people have been talking about Ronaldo’s ability from dead-balls all year.

It’s also impressive to note the distribution of his goal tally: one was a go-ahead strike (vs. Atlético Madrid) and two were equalizers (against Sporting CP and Celta de Vigo) (he’s also managed one free kick in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League for what that’s worth).

So with such impressive numbers, is it safe to say that we should finally banish the whole #ronaldosuxatfreekicks thing?

For the moment, we can certainly do that, as it’s simply hard to argue with numbers so good... at least until they change...

Which is why I advise against drawing heavily definitive conclusions from such a small sample size. 19 shots isn’t a lot and as I mentioned before, variance has a lot do with the success of free kicks in general.

Just think about it; while CR7 has been regularly popping in with crucial free kicks to keep his conversion rate at an elite level, he is only a couple bounces off the woodwork away from scoring zilch from dead-balls this season.

Nevertheless, there are signs that this upturn in form could be more sustainable. While Ronaldo has not necessarily deviated away from his knuckleball technique, there does seem to be more of a determined attempt to keep his shots accurate and on target. Instead of wildly smashing into the ball with unrelenting power like he used to, it does seem like Cristiano has made more of a concerted effort to keep his free kicks lower and more controlled.

The current stats back this up, as Ronaldo has missed the target only 3 times (15.79% of his shots, which is far better than the his 2015/16 statistic - 30%), which stands in stark contrast to his 7 shots on-target and his 9 shots into the wall.

If this observation is correct, then it could be possible that Ronaldo has in fact modified his technique to emphasize on greater accuracy over power and thus reduce the stress on his knee (which explains why his EURO 2016 injury hasn’t really seemed to affect his free kick shooting).

Take a look at his free kick goal vs. Sporting.

It’s decidedly different from many of the free kicks he’s scored before. While he still saw a good “up-and-down” motion, it lacked the characteristic power of the classic CR7 strike and looked to merely beat the keeper through pure accuracy.

However, as mentioned before only time will tell if this is an actual trend.

Meanwhile, as we wait for the future to play out, we should commend Ronaldo on his excellent record and hold back the dogs for at least a day.

Vid of All of CR7’s FK Goals with Madrid For Your Enjoyment

*I personally collected Ronaldo’s 2015/16 and 2016/17 free kick stats. I used to go through every single one of Ronaldo’s fixtures (these fixtures only include Ronaldo’s club stats and exclude Ronaldo’s free kicks in the Club World Cup due to a total lack of data) in both seasons and pore through every single one of his shots. As a result, there may be slight inaccuracies in the numbers above, which will be adjusted accordingly if found to be wrong. If you simply do not find these stats to be credible, you are welcome to count all of Ronaldo’s shots yourself.

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