Identifying Cristiano Ronaldo’s TRUE Position: Winger Or Striker?

Last updated on January 17th, 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo exited the 2022 FIFA World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Morocco in the Quarterfinals, where he did not even start for Portugal.

Despite what seems like his downfall in recent years, history will never forget that Ronaldo was and probably still is one of the best football players to ever grace the field

Cristiano Ronaldo is the record holder for most goals scored in all competitions with 819 goals, rendering him one of the greatest attackers of all time.

Ronaldo’s evolution over the years is a fascinating journey that saw him switching between different attacking positions. 

Below, you will see how he has adjusted his game to be the player he is today.

Cristiano Ronaldo by the numbers

When you see the statistics below, it is no wonder Ronaldo has won 5 Ballon d’Ors throughout his career.

Appearances and Goals For Club
Sporting CP B2002-200320
Sporting CP2002-2003253
Manchester United2004-200919684
Real Madrid2009-2018292311
Manchester United2021-20224019

Appearances and Goals For Country (excluding friendlies)
Portugal U1521
Portugal U1743
Portugal U2172
Portugal U2321

Sporting Lisbon: Raw Talent at the Wing

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Source: Foot the Ball

Ronaldo spent his youth playing for several Portuguese clubs before ending up in Portuguese footballing giant Sporting Lisbon. He made his debut at just 16 years old playing under manager Laszio Boloni. 

His original position was as a winger and his game revolves around his pace, agility, and dribbling ability. He was utilised as a traditional right winger, often attacking the byline to connect a cross toward the box. 

While he constantly wowed fans with his skill and pace, he scored just 3 goals in 25 appearances, which saw him receiving a lot of criticism from fans and pundits. 

It was not until Sporting Lisbon played Manchester United in a friendly match that Ronaldo started breaking through European football. After dominating United’s defence in a 3-1 win, Sir Alexander Ferguson was convinced to make Cristiano Ronaldo one of his main targets

Adapting to the Premier League

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Source: Manchester Evening News

Manchester United signed Ronaldo in 2003 for 12 million pounds, making him the most expensive teenager in the UK. Sir Alex Ferguson’s plan was to loan Ronaldo back to Lisbon as part of his development plan, but his impressive performances were enough to make United keep him for his first season

The Premier League was and still is amongst the hardest leagues in the world. As a teenager, Ronaldo was given time to adapt as Sir Alexander Ferguson played him in his initial position at right wing

Unfortunately, Ronald did not have the best start as he only scored 18 goals in 95 league games between 03/04 and 05/06 season. 

Post-2006 World Cup: Finding His Way

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Source: Talk Sport

Cristiano Ronaldo came back from the 2006 World Cup a different player. Aside from the fact that he is growing to his physical peak, he was handed a new role at Manchester United. 

Still starting as a right-wing, Ronaldo played alongside Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney upfront. The difference was the 3 players were given more freedom as they interchange positions. 

Playing in this position saw Ronaldo scoring 66 goals in 106 appearances between 06/07 and 08/09 season, achieving the top assist (14) in 07/08.

He established himself as one of the best young talents as he was nominated for the Ballon D’or at just 22 years old. He went on to win the award the following year at 23 years old after equaling the Premier League record of 31 goals in a season. 

Running the Wing at Real Madrid

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Source: The 42

Ronaldo broke another record with his move to Real Madrid where he became the most expensive player at 80 million pounds

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived into an organised Madrid side playing a 4-2-3-1 formation. Kaka was playing at central midfield, Di Maria at right wing, and Raul/Higuain was leading the line, leaving Ronaldo no choice but to play on the left-hand side. 

Despite never playing in the position before, he was familiar with the area due to his days as a fluid attacker at Manchester United. 

Playing in a legendary Real Madrid side, Ronaldo was allowed space as Ozil and Kaka drew out defenders from the midfield. When the ball is out wide, Ronaldo tends to attack to the center allowing space for both Ozil and Kaka just outside of the penalty box. 

It was not Ronaldo’s role to track back during defensive phases, he was ordered to stay upfront which makes him an incredibly dangerous threat on counterattacks. 

Born of BBC

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Source: Squawka

Ozil left Real Madrid in 2013 and was replaced by Gareth Bale. Adjusting to Bale’s position, Real Madrid switched to a 4-3-3 formation, giving birth to one of the most iconic front three in history, the BBC (Bale – Benzema – Ronaldo).

Benzema was the centre forward on paper, but Ronaldo also had the role to stay central while Bale and the other fullbacks ran the flanks. Even in this role, Benzema was the one to track back when defending while Ronaldo stays upfront to pounce on counterattacks

Ronaldo won 2 Ballon D’ors playing alongside Benzema and Bale, scoring 134 goals in 127 appearances from the 13/14 to the 17/18 season. 

Juventus: Adapting in Turin

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Source: Goal

Cristiano Ronaldo shocked the world in 2018 with yet another record-breaking transfer. He moved to Juventus for over €100 million, a record fee for a player over 30 years old.

Moving to a side managed by Massimiliano Allegri, Ronaldo was placed alongside Paulo Dybala as a free-roaming striker, which creates an imbalance as both players continuously interchanged positions upfront.

Accordingly, Allegri decided to switch to 4-3-3, placing Ronaldo as a left-wing on paper. In reality, he often drifts to the centre while Matuidi and Sandro will cover his position on the left. As a result, Ronaldo is given the space to attack the box alongside Mario Mandzukic. 

Ronaldo scored 21 goals in his first season, and finishing just 5 goals behind the top scorer Fabio Quagriarella at 26.

Ronaldo won 2 consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus, he also became the fastest Juventus player to reach 100 goals with just 131 appearances across all competitions. 

You can find out more about clinical finishers in this article here.

United: Chapter 2

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Source: Sky

Ronaldo had a year left in his contract in the summer of 2021. After being linked to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Manchester United swooped in and signed Ronaldo for a fee of approximately 25 million euros.

You can find out why there are 2 Manchester clubs here.

Under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United was not the same team as when Ronaldo left. The club has gone trophyless since winning the Europa League and EFL Cup 4 years priors to Ronaldo’s arrival

Ronaldo had a decent first season finishing as United’s top scorer with 18 goals, his team unfortunately finished 6th, 13 points off the top 4. 

Ronaldo’s role in Manchester United was nothing new for him, he played as a centre-forward alongside young wingers such as Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho. However, there was not enough structure in United when it came to defending when it was not Ronaldo’s role to track back

As the season went by, things only went downhill for Ronaldo. Starting just 4 times and scoring only 1 goal in his second season with Manchester United, Ronaldo‘s contract was mutually terminated after a controversial interview with Piers Morgan, saying United’s manager; Erik Ten Hag did not have respect for him.


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Source: Latin Times

Cristiano Ronaldo started his career as a winger. After being assigned different roles throughout his career, he has developed the ability not only to be a striker but also one of the most fearsome finishers in the history of football.

Exiting what could be his last World Cup, Ronaldo may be experiencing the biggest down of his career, and whether or not his old form will return, he will always remain one of the greatest to ever play.

You can find out how a winger’s role differs from a striker here.

Moreover, if you’re curious about Messi’s true position, you can check it out here too.

If you’re looking to buy the latest football merchandise from your favourite club, you can check out the latest deals at Kitbag.

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