By Ben Hayward
When Rafael Moreno Aranzadi died in 1922, the footballing world did not sit up and take notice. A virtual unknown internationally, the Athletic Bilbao striker was, however, a prolific goalscorer in Spain, and his death at the age of 30 nevertheless represented a shock to football followers in Castile. The forward is thought to have died tragically after consuming rotten oysters, but he left Spanish football with a pearl of a legacy: the Pichichi trophy.
Moreno was known as Pichichi and was one of the highest goalscorers of the time; he netted the first-ever goal at Athletic’s San Mames ground and struck an impressive 68 times in just 72 games for the Basque outfit.
And so the name Pichichi became synonymous with goals. Some 29 years later, comparisons were drawn with another legendary Athletic striker – Telmo Zarra. After bagging an extraordinary 38 goals in 30 games to become the all-time top goalscorer over a single season in Spain’s top flight, sports paper Marca decided a trophy was needed to honour such a feat.
That title was inaugurated in 1952 – and the Pichichi was born, exactly 30 years after the man himself had died. Zarra’s famous mark – albeit not his strike-rate – was then equalled by the brilliant Hugo Sanchez in 1990. The Mexican, who was known as the 'Pentapichichi' (as he won the trophy on five occasions) hit 38 goals in 35 games.
But now of course, there’s a new kid on the block: Cristiano Ronaldo also has 38 league goals this term with one game still left to play, and yet, if you picked up a paper in Spain, you’d think he had already broken the record. He hasn’t. Well, at least not officially.
Plenty to celebrate | But Ronaldo isn't the league's highest ever scorer - yetThe thing is, one of the goals given to Ronaldo by Marca wasn’t awarded by the match referee as Real Madrid beat Real Sociedad 2-1 back in September. But Marca, you might say, award the Pichichi. And you’d be right. So does that mean they can award goals too? Well, yes and no. It is their award and it will be Ronaldo’s award, whether he scores 38, 39, 40 or more.
During Marca’s live match coverage of Madrid’s 3-1 win over Villarreal on Sunday night, reporter Delfin Melero was told by an online fan that Ronaldo didn’t in fact have 38 goals (this happened before the forward’s stunning second strike), but 37 according to official Fifa statistics. The reply, however, was clear: “Not for us – and we are the ones that hand out the Pichichi.”
The goal in question arrived in the 75th minute of Madrid’s away match at Anoeta on September 19. It was a fiercely-struck free-kick that caught Pepe on the back and looped dramatically into the top corner of the net, completely changing trajectory and deceiving goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on its way in. Despite the deflection, many were happy to award the goal to Ronaldo. Many except the most important person of all – referee Antonio Manuel Mateu Lahoz.
Now he’s ahead of the Argentine, though, in fact he is far, far ahead – and it just looks ridiculous. Nevertheless, Spanish news agency EFE has followed suit and so has television station LaSexta, while such peccant propaganda has, in turn, confused the international media.
Interestingly enough, the goal scored by Real Sociedad in that match was a fierce drive struck by Xabi Prieto which hit striker Raul Tamudo on the head, changed course and went in, wrong-footing Madrid keeper Iker Casillas. That goal, naturally, was awarded to Tamudo, and there is no clamour for playmaker Prieto to be given the strike. Then again, Prieto is not the darling of the Madrid media, nor is he in line to win the Pichichi. And he certainly won’t be breaking any goalscoring records this season – even with help from the press.
For his part, Pepe said yesterday the goal should belong to Ronaldo. But it’s hardly for him to decide either. And the worst thing of all for the Portuguese forward is that, in a season which has seen him rack up a half-century of goals including an impressive cup final winner against Barca and many spectacular strikes along the way, his most famous goal of all has ended up being one he didn’t even score – not officially, anyway.
Meanwhile, the original Pichichi must be turning defenders in his grave – and the notoriously self-centred Hugo is hardly likely to be doing celebratory somersaults either as the record shared by the two legendary strikers is beaten on the whim of Madrid’s partisan press.
Marca, and other sections of the Spanish media, remain insistent – and they are sounding like a broken record. Ronaldo’s impressive tally also sounds like a broken record. But it isn’t, not yet.
So let’s hope, for the good of everyone, that the Madrid forward really does break it with at least one more goal against Almeria on Saturday. Then we can all agree on at least one thing – that the Portuguese Pichichi really is the highest scorer ever in a Spanish league season; we can then get on with the rest of our lives, celebrate Ronaldo’s fantastic achievement and we can forget about the lies, the damned lies and the statistics.