Cristiano Ronaldo’s apparent desire to return to Manchester United could be fuelled by the possibility of becoming the first player to be the record goalscorer at two different clubs, with Wayne Rooney’s benchmark well within his reach.
The 32-year-old is widely believed to have told Real Madrid bosses that he wants to leave Spain this summer, having been outraged by his treatment during an ongoing tax fraud scandal. A return to Old Trafford offers the likeliest exit route, while PSG are also keen.
The Portuguese winger is already Real Madrid’s leading scorer by some margin, having netted 406 goals in just 394 matches with the Spanish giants – a strike rate (1.03) better than any other player in the top 20 list, including Raul (0.44) and Alfredo Di Stefano (0.78).
Real Madrid’s all-time top scorers
2. Raul – 323 goals (741 games)
3. Alfredo Di Stefano – 308 goals (396 games)
4. Carlos Santillana – 290 goals (645 games)
5. Ferenc Puskas – 242 goals (262 games)
United’s record is rather more modest, with Rooney having netted 253 times and only overtaking Bobby Charlton’s previous benchmark this season. With the ageing forward expected to leave the club this summer, that tally will not be increasing any time soon.
That leaves Ronaldo only needing 136 more goals to better Rooney’s tally, having already bagged 118 goals during his first spell at the club.
His 2007-08 campaign, in which he scored 42 goals in 49 games and went on to win the Ballon d’Or, is the most prolific ever by a United player, while his 61 goals for Madrid in the 2014-15 season is also a club record.
Several players can lay claim to the most prolific single seasons in multiple clubs’ histories, but none are known to have the overall scoring record.
Thierry Henry came close, having scored 228 times for Arsenal, but he could not overtake Juan Pablo Angel’s tally before Bradley Wright-Phillips ran away with the lead, scoring 33 more goals to date. Of course, it is rather different to be top scorer for two European giants rather than an MLS club.
Manchester United’s all-time top scorers
2. Bobby Charlton – 249 goals (758 games)
3. Denis Law – 237 goals (404 games)
4. Jack Rowley – 211 goals (424 games)
=5. Dennis Viollet – 179 goals (293 games)
=5. George Best – 179 goals (470 games)
Though comfortably Newcastle United’s top scorer, Alan Shearer would have needed another 82 more goals to topple Simon Garner’s 194-goal haul at Blackburn. Arthur Rowley came close, finishing his career as Shrewsbury Town’s topscorer but ending just seven goals shy of the record at Leicester City.
The prospect of being both United and Real’s top scorer will surely intrigue Ronaldo and his notorious ego, and give him a significant edge over one-club man Lionel Messi when the two – as is so often the case – are measured against one another.
But how realistic is it for Ronaldo to actually break the record? Well, very realistic. If he were to continue his strike rate from last season, when he scored 42 goals in 46 games – a relatively poor season by his usual standards – he would only need 148 matches to reach the target.
Given that United played 64 matches last season, Ronaldo could break Rooney’s record mid-way through his third season at the club, in the 2019-20 campaign.
But he is just as likely to do it even quicker. There has been a distorted opinion that Ronaldo’s exploits have gradually faded, but his last three seasons have been phenomenally prolific. He has scored 154 goals since 2014 alone, and if you take just that strike rate of a goal every 0.96 games, he would need only 130 games to break the record.
That is easily within reach over the next three seasons, and he would even have time to go back to Sporting to end his career – though he’ll never get close to Fernando Peyroteo’s club-record 544 goals!