There are a bunch of amazing things about Cristiano Ronaldo's debut for Manchester United. First off: that it happened 19 years ago. These highlights are old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, invest in some AMC stock and slice up a pound of processed meat at the grocery store.
Then there's how stiff everyone else looks. Compared to Ronaldo, gliding up and down the field at any angle he wants, Diego Forlan looks like he's playing in a full-body cast. At one point, Ruud van Nistelrooy, faced with a ball suddenly moving at a pace and trajectory he has never seen before, kind of just closes his eyes and hopes for the best, ultimately smacking his header directly into the ground. After Ronaldo beats three defenders in an effort to secure a lane for a simple back pass, Wes Brown slices a clearance into the stands with his big toe.
Soccer would change drastically over the next two decades, with Ronaldo at the vanguard of its evolution toward a faster-paced game that demanded, at the highest level, a combination of elite athleticism and technical ability. It used to be that you could get by with one or the other -- not anymore. Watching those highlights today, it looks like someone from 2014 first built a time machine and then used it to go back to 2003 because he was fed up with hearing all the ex-United players in the English media talking about how great their teams were.
But that's not No. 1 on my personal scale of amazement. No, the most amazing thing about Ronaldo's debut is that he didn't attempt a single shot.
Per the site FBref, he has since put 1,440 shots on target. We don't have total shots data going back that far, but Stats Perform has it for all of Europe's five biggest league leagues starting in 2010. Since then, Ronaldo has attempted 2,429 shots; Lionel Messi (2,023) is the only other player above 2,000; Robert Lewandowski (1,530) is the only other one above 1,500.
While he started off as the unstoppable, omni-directional winger who'd beat his man, then another man, and then another man before bending a dipping cross onto a striker's head, Ronaldo's game steadily evolved toward one point: the shot. He shaved off his inefficiencies, stopped dropping deep into his own third, got rid of some of the step-overs, forgot about beating full-backs to the end line and devoted his entire game toward getting as many shots as humanly possible because that led to getting as many goals as humanly possible. And getting as many goals as humanly possible led to five Champions League titles and five Ballon d'Or awards.
But ultimately, it all led to where we are right now: Ronaldo scored more goals than Harry Kane last season, and nobody seems to want him.