The Golden Shoe, that oddly titled but much coveted item in football’s awards catalogue, is due a refit. Rather like its more heralded companion, the Ballon d’Or, it has been shuffled mostly between two supermen over the past decade. You know who they are, but this may just be the year when neither the glimmering boot nor the gold ball ends up at either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo’s house.
The Golden Shoe – it isn't known as the Boot because that name is already taken, by various leagues and by prize for the World Cup’s leading scorer – is the trophy awarded each season to the most prolific goalscorer in league football across Europe. It’s a little more complicated than sheer number of goals, because of the handicap system that acknowledges goals scored in certain leagues are harder to come by than in others. If it weren’t for that, we would be readying Rauno Sappinen, the Estonian striker, for stardom. His 27 goals for Flora in the 2017 Estonia season have already pointed him towards a move to Belgium, but they count for only half as much, rightly, in the Golden Shoe rankings, as goals scored in the top divisions of England, Spain, Italy, Germany or France.
There have been times when it has seemed tempting to apply a special handicap for Messi and Ronaldo – oblige Ronaldo to wear a lead shoe on his right foot? Messi to tie his boots together with a golden lace? – simply to make the Golden Shoe a more level playing field. The duopoly on the prize has been broken just once since Diego Forlan took the trophy thanks to his 32 goals for Atletico Madrid in 2008/09, although Luis Suarez, who won the prize as a Barcelona player outright in 2015/16, did share it with Ronaldo in 2013/14, when Suarez’s 31 goals for Liverpool matched Ronaldo’s Real Madrid tally.
That was an austere year by modern standards. Suarez and Ronaldo scored 31 each in league football. Ronaldo’s last Golden Shoe, in 2014/15, had a much higher exchange rate: 48 goals from 35 matches, at a rate of one every 65 minutes. And his Madrid still didn’t win La Liga that season; Barcelona did. This was the period of peak Ronaldo-Messi hyperinflation, when the Golden Shoe had extraordinary weight.
Messi took it to an all-time high in 2011/12 with his 50 Liga goals, and because La Liga ranks among the top tier of competitions, that meant a startling 100 points in the Golden Shoe rankings. Ronaldo, with four goals fewer, had 92 points that season. The next best in 2011/12 was Robin van Persie, then of Arsenal, way behind with a mere 30 Premier League goals.
Fewer than 30 goals – or 60 points – has been enough to win the trophy just three times this century. This season, 30-plus will almost certainly be needed. With at least 10 games to go in the major leagues, a tight clutch of pacesetters are gathered in the mid-20s. Messi, on 22 goals, is lurking in fifth spot at the moment, which will worry those only a notch or two above him in the rankings. Messi being Messi, he is capable of summoning a quick hat-trick or two in a very short time.
His customary stimulator, Ronaldo, is lagging way behind, with 14 goals in Madrid’s patchy Liga campaign. Although Suarez is in the frame, with 20 goals, a new name has a string chance of appearing on the honours board come May.
The Premier League might have its first Golden Shoe since Suarez shared it with Ronaldo, its first outright since Ronaldo won his first, with United, 10 seasons back. Harry Kane's 24 goals for Spurs put him two points ahead of Liverpool's Mohammed Salah, who has 23 league goals in his first Liverpool campaign, while Sergio Aguero goes into Thursday night's Manchester City-Arsenal match not far behind them.
Joint leader with Kane is Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani, who with 11 Ligue 1 fixtures left, and perhaps more opportunity to take penalties now that Neymar is out for a period with injury, must be regarded as a strong favourite.
But for goals-per-minute, neither Kane, Cavani, Salah or Messi are quite up with Ciro Immobile, whose 23 in Serie A for Lazio have come every 84 minutes. The last Italian – or Serie A player – to take the Golden Shoe was Francesco Totti, 11 years ago. Immobile, the target man who had tough times in La Liga with Sevilla and in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, is enjoying quite a renaissance. He will need his best form this weekend, at home to Juventus, an assignment that looks a little harder than, say, Kane's home game against Huddersfield Town or Cavani's trip to Troyes.