Failing to score within the first 10 minutes of a match is not usually a disaster for any striker, even one of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s calibre, but in doing so at the start of Tuesday’s Premier League clash with Brighton & Hove Albion the Manchester United forward passed an unwanted personal milestone.
Going into the Brighton game, Ronaldo had not scored a goal in his previous 537 minutes of play (excluding stoppage time), one of the longest goal droughts of his club career since he ended his first spell at United in 2009 to join Real Madrid in a then-world record transfer for £80 million as one of the game’s elite forwards and holder of the Ballon d’Or.
The longest the Portugal captain had previously gone without scoring a club goal since that move to the Bernabeu was his 546-minute barren streak between May and September 2010. But Ronaldo surpassed that total after Brighton kept him at bay on Tuesday until the 51st minute. The 37-year-old’s strike from the edge of the box ultimately helped his team to a much-needed 2-0 win and boosted their hopes of finishing in the top four, but it also marked the end of his goal drought at 587 minutes (per ESPN’s Stats & Information), his longest in more than 11½ years.
What’s more, it took Ronaldo until his seventh appearance of 2022 before scoring his first goal of the year — the most games he has gone without scoring at the start of a calendar year since 2003, when as a teenager he took 23 appearances across the end of his time at Sporting CP and his first eight games for United before getting off the mark. Ronaldo then went five games before scoring his first goal in each of the next three calendar years, but never has he started a year so poorly since he evolved from a wily winger into a supremely prolific forward who has scored more than 800 senior goals for club and country and is the all-time top scorer in men’s internationals and the Champions League.
Ronaldo’s goal drought as a whole
Played: 587 minutes (before goal vs. Brighton)
On target: 8
Breaking down Ronaldo’s goal drought, game by game
Here is a closer look at Ronaldo’s individual performance in each match since the last time he successfully registered for United, against Burnley on Dec. 30, looking at his attacking stats in his six Premier League games and one FA Cup appearance in 2022.
Jan. 3: Manchester United 0-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premier League)
Played: 90 minutes
On target: 1
Ronaldo played the full 90 minutes against Wolves, mustering just two shots over the course of the game as his side slid to a dismal 1-0 defeat at Molineux. Both were left-footed efforts; one from outside and another from close range. The former came in the 26th minute and was Ronaldo’s only shot on target, a relatively tame 20-yard attempt that was comfortably saved by Wolves keeper Jose Sa. Ronaldo’s second effort came in the 69th minute when he latched onto a long ball into the channel and sprinted into the Wolves box, only to lash a wayward low shot across the goal and well wide of the far post.
Jan. 19: Brentford 1-3 Manchester United (Premier League)
Played: 71 minutes
On target: 0
United cantered to a commanding 3-1 victory at the Community Stadium but Ronaldo did not play a particularly intrinsic role, attempting three shots before being substituted for Harry Maguire in a tactical switch with around 20 minutes remaining. Ronaldo did not react well to the change, and was visibly frustrated as he took his place on the bench. All of his shots came in the second half, with two of them blocked at source by Brentford defenders while the third was a looping header that hit the crossbar in the 47th minute with the score still deadlocked at 0-0.
Jan. 22: Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United (Premier League)
Played: 90 minutes
On target: 1
The first of the United star’s attempts came from a ninth-minute free kick, which he blasted straight into the Hammers wall. The second came five minutes later when Ronaldo turned smartly on the edge of the box but had his long-range effort stoutly blocked by centre-back Craig Dawson before it could present any concern to goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. The third came in the final minute of regulation time when Bruno Fernandes found Ronaldo with a quick pass into the area, only for Areola to gather the effort in rather straightforward fashion. Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of the game at Old Trafford, striking in the third minute of stoppage time to pinch a dramatic last-gasp 1-0 for United.
Feb. 4: Manchester United 1 -1 Middlesbrough AET, 8-9 on pens (FA Cup)
Played: 120 minutes
On target: 3
The first tie of the FA Cup fourth round went the distance at Old Trafford as Boro eventually saw out extra time to win 9-8 on penalties and send the hosts packing in front of 71,000 of their own supporters (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.). Ronaldo was presented with the perfect opportunity to end his drought when United were awarded a penalty midway through the first half, but he dragged his shot wide before howling in exasperation. That was one of 10 shots that Ronaldo attempted over the course of his two hours of toil, although only three forced saves from Boro keeper Joe Lumley while two were blocked. He did successfully convert from the spot during the shootout, but in the end it wasn’t enough to prevent United’s demise.
Feb. 8: Burnley 1-1 Manchester United (Premier League)
Played: 22 minutes
On target: 0
Eyebrows were inevitably raised when United coach Ralf Rangnick named Ronaldo among the substitutes for the trip to Turf Moor. But, with the score level, Rangnick threw Ronaldo in place of Edinson Cavani for the latter stages as United chased a winning goal. Despite only having nine touches of the ball, Ronaldo completed six passes and produced three efforts on goal in his short time on the pitch, though he didn’t really come close to finding the net. Summing up United’s late-game shift toward slinging the ball into the box and hoping for the best, the first two of Ronaldo’s shots were leaping headers from deep crosses that both sailed high over Nick Pope‘s crossbar. The third came in the 94th minute when the No. 7’s low, angled effort was blocked by James Tarkowski in what was effectively the final play of the game as it ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw for United.
Feb. 12: Manchester United 1-1 Southampton (Premier League)
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) February 13, 2022
Played: 90 minutes
On target: 2
Ronaldo might have attempted only two shots in 90 minutes against the Saints but at least he had 100% accuracy for the first time this calendar year by successfully getting them both on target. The first came just six minutes in when the United star darted in behind the defence and deftly rounded goalkeeper Fraser Forster, only to see his goal-bound shot thwarted by Romain Perraud‘s excellent sliding block. Forster then denied his second effort on the hour mark by swatting away a powerful left-footed shot from inside the area. Come the final whistle, United had registered their third successive 1-1 draw.
Feb. 15: Manchester United 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion (Premier League)
Ronaldo has now scored a goal in:
Longevity ♾️ pic.twitter.com/SAfJh6CdnL
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 15, 2022
Played: 90 minutes (goal scored in 51st minute)
On target: 2
Ronaldo was unable to have an attempt on goal within the first 10 minutes of the game against Brighton, thereby ensuring his drought was the longest since 2010. However, after firing a free kick into the wall from a promising position near the end of the first half, he found his range soon after the break when his right-footed strike from right on the edge of the area beat Seagulls goalkeeper Robert Sanchez. Ronaldo had three more chances to double United’s lead after that, including two close-range headers, but in the end it was Bruno Fernandes who put the gloss on the result with his late goal.
Ronaldo’s previous longest goal drought
With international games also taken into account, Ronaldo most recently endured a five-game goal drought between June and September 2018, when he drew blanks in the last two of Portugal’s four matches at the 2018 World Cup and then did not score until his first game of the 2018-19 season at Juventus.
But you have to go back over a decade to find the last time Ronaldo went five full club games without a goal. That barren run began after he scored his 22nd-minute penalty against Athletic Club in Madrid’s penultimate game of the 2009-10 season. He then failed to score in that season’s final game against Malaga or in any of his first four outings in 2010-11 — against Real Mallorca, Osasuna and Real Sociedad in the league and Ajax in Real’s Champions League group-stage opener. He did score at the World Cup for Portugal in the intervening period, but even in South Africa his only goal in four matches came in a 7-0 thrashing of North Korea.
He eventually broke the streak in a 3-0 victory over Espanyol in LaLiga on Sept. 21 by scoring the opening goal, again from the penalty spot. Even then, the tension was ratcheted up as Ronaldo fired past goalkeeper Carlos Kameni but the referee ordered the kick to be retaken. Ronaldo’s relief as he celebrated scoring at the second time of asking was there for all to see.
Ronaldo went on to finish the 2010-11 season with 53 goals in 54 games for Los Blancos in all competitions, and he has never looked back: winning 15 trophies including four Champions Leagues and LaLiga twice, as well as claiming the Ballon d’Or four times before returning to Old Trafford last year.
Additional research and writing by Tony Mabert