In the summer of 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo walked away from Manchester United in a world record £80 million pound deal to join the Galatico’s of Madrid. After years of speculation, the two-time Champions League Finalist and Ballon D’or winning forward got his dream move and became the worlds most expensive footballer. At the same time a young left back named Gareth Bale had finished his second full season at Tottenham Hotspur, suffering a 24 game losing streak in the process, having being replaced as first choice left back by Beniot Assou-Ekotto. Fast-forward to the summer of 2013 and Gareth Bale is now the hottest property on the market, with the two-time PFA player of the year being heavily linked to Real Madrid, as a partner in crime to Ronaldo or even a replacement, and Manchester United, to soften the blow of Sir Alex’s departure. Yet, how does his Premier League performances compare to Ronaldo pre-Madrid move?
A Brief History
Before we can compare the performances of these two individuals it is important to first contextualize their performances in terms of the teams that they played for and the state of the Premier League at the time. For comparative purposes this article intends to compare Ronaldo’s 08/09 Premier League campaign, the campaign that directly preceded his move to Madrid and Gareth Bales 12/13 season, which has put him firmly in the spotlight much similar to Ronaldo before his move.
During the 08/09 season Ronaldo was part of one of the most prolific and feared teams in the world. The season before they had equaled Liverpool’s record of 18 English League titles and were the reigning Champions League winners. They followed this up in 08/09 with a third consecutive Premier League title and back to back Champions League finals. At this point, Ronaldo had racked up 196 Premier League appearances for United scoring 84 goals (Soccerway 2013) and collected three Premier League medals, a Champions League winners medal, two League cup medals and a FA cup Medal. In contrast the 2012/13 Season for Tottenham Hotspur ended in heartbreak as they missed out on fourth spot and Champions League qualification by a single point to North London rivals Arsenal. Yet, Bale himself had a season to remember after picking up both the PFA Player and Young Player of the year awards. To date Bale has made 149 appearances scoring 42 goals, it should however be taken into consideration that Bale played the majority of his early years at left back and it is only his move to attacking left/centre midfielder under Harry Redknapp and Andres Villas Boas that has caused a increase in performance and goal return. Unlike Ronaldo, Bale has yet to win a major trophy.
Contextualizing the Seasons
The face of the Premier League has changed dramatically since 08/09 with only Sir Alex, Wenger and Moyes managing the same club in 12/13 as they were back then. Therefore, it is important to contextualize the two season in terms of opposition performances in key areas so that each persons performances can be taken into consideration and compared against each other. The table below compares four team grouping across three catagories: Points gained, goals scored and goals conceded. The four groups are intended to highlight the relevant strengths of each ‘area’ of the premier league.
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The results of this comparison shows that the ‘Elite’ Top four teams were collecting points at a higher rate (2.11ppg) in 08/09 when compared to 12/13 (2.07ppg). It would appear that these top four teams were a class above anyone else in the League at the time with the average points for top four teams in 08/09 was 10.04 points greater than all the teams in the top 7. This does not appear to be the case in 12/13, however as the difference in points gained between top 4 and top 7 is only 5.75. This suggests a more competitive ‘top end’ of the league, highlighted by the difference between 1st and 4th and 1st and 7th in 08/09 was 18 points and 37 points respectively and 16 points and 28 points in 12/13. A large difference can be seen when comparing the number of goal scored and conceded in 08/09 to 12/13. This suggest could suggest that teams were more focused upon their defensive duties, relaying on more structured patterns and counterattacking moves to provide victory, with the flipside being that teams in 12/13 are more focused on their attacking ability so ‘overload’ there attacking set ups to provide as many goals as possible.
The consequences of these results suggest that there may have been a mentality ‘shift’ in the time spanning from 08/09 to 12/13 with teams becoming more and more focus on attacking, and subsequently ‘entertaining’ football with less emphasis on defensive solidity and more prominence on attacking qualities. Therefore, when comparing goal returns and the attacking qualities of two individuals it is important to adjust your perception and take into account the relative strengths of the opposition at the time.
Bale v Ronaldo: A Creative Comparison
Baring this in mind, we can begin to formulate a comparison between the two players. This article only makes associations using data that was available in both seasons’ things such as Clear Cut Chance Conversions and creations were not available for the 08/09 season.
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The table above showcases a selection of key performance indicators that highlight the players creative abilities. It can be seen that both Ronaldo and Bale had a similar number of successful dribbles, yet Bale’s, dribbling success was superior to Ronaldo’s as he attempt 10 less dribbles over the course of the season. Bearing in mind that this was considered as one of Ronaldo’s main facets of performance it is interesting to see that Bale had a similar level of expertise. However, it could be theorised that due to the higher number of crosses that Bale provided, 106 more (2.78 more per game and 39% increase) that Bale was dribbling in wider areas, in attempts to get to the by-line, whereas Ronaldo was using his dribbling in more central and heavily populated areas where he would have not had the freedom. Furthermore, it could be suggested that the apparent superior defensive structuring in 08/09, resulting in fewer goals conceded, meant that there was less space overall for any individual to exploit when compared to 12/13.
In terms of each individuals ability to create chances for others it can be seen that Bale created 16 more chances for his team-mates (a 21% increase) than Ronaldo did. Again this needs to come under the same scrutiny as before in terms of the overall defensive aspects of the opposition making it harder to create chances.
Bale vs Ronaldo: Goal Scorers
Despite there creative differences, it is Ronaldo’s and Bale’s goal scoring prowess that has had the money men at Madrid and United turning there heads. As can be seen above, Bale appears to have had more impressive season in front of goal than Ronaldo did in 08/09. Not only did he score three more goals, he had 16 more shots on target at a slight better accuracy, 55% to 53%. However, he had an inferior chance conversion but only by a single percent. Overall, it would appear that the two individual are comparable in terms of shooting statistics, with perhaps Bale edging Ronaldo mainly in the terms of goals scored. However, it is important to contextualize their shooting opportunities. For example, both are considered to be the talented free kick takers and it can be seen that Ronaldo took 50 shots from free kicks alone compared to Bale’s 27. This implies that Bale is superior at forging out his only shooting opportunities.
One of the qualities that is valued most in an attacking individual is not just their ability to score goals, rather the importance of those goals and their ability to score points for the teams.
Importance of the Goals
The table above throws some light on the importance of each player to there respective teams. Again it would appear that Bale’s contribution to Tottentham’s season in 12/13 was greater than Ronaldo’s to Manchester United’s in 08/09. Bale scored in over half of his teams games, winning a massive 25% of the teams total points tally and scoring 32% of the teams goals.
The theory behind the number of points won by an individual is simple. It is calculated by examining each game that the individual has scored in, and asking the question of if we take away the goals scored by that individual what result would we have had? For example if a player scores both goals in a 2-1 win, he would have won his team 3 points as without him they would have lost 0-1. If he scored one goal he would have won his team two points etc.
The nature of these findings are fraught with dangers as ‘goals change games’ and there are so many different alternative scenarios that could have played out.
However this can at least give some perspective to the players worth.
The evidence above certainly paints a picture but does not reveal the true story. It would appear that Bale actually outshines Ronaldo if you take both seasons as individuals. Bale scored more goals, was a more accomplished dribbler and chance creator. His shooting prowess comes to the fore as he had more shots, with a higher accuracy. This is made more impressive by the fact that Ronaldo had 23 more shots from freekick’s than Bale. These findings indicate that Bale had the ability to create shooting opportunities for others, but more important himself and with both players having a comparable chance conversion you would say that Bale slightly edges it.
When it comes to the players relative importance to the team they are playing in however Bale clearly outshines Ronaldo. However, you need to take into account the teams both individuals were playing in at the time. Ronaldo was part of a title winning outfit that did not have to relay on his, considerable, individual brilliance to succeed. Where as Bale was part of an inferior unit competing for champions league places. It would be interesting for Bale to be in a team where he can relay and trust the players around him to deliver the goods.
The biggest Elephant in the room is that this is Bale’s stand out season, the one that put him on the map. Ronaldo, on the other hand, had been succeeding at the top level of the game for a number of years prior to his big more. Bale does not have that pedigree but it would be foolish to suggest that he could not achieve those heights in the right environment. Which environment that maybe will have to wait until August the 31st…
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