Ramos calm ahead of Reds test

HOW times change. An image on Juande Ramos's official website shows a group of gleeful Tottenham Hotspur supporters holding aloft a giant image of the Spaniard after he had led the team to victory over Chelsea in the Carling Cup final.

On that day almost exactly a year ago, Ramos would never have predicted his English dream was going to end so quickly, nor would he have guessed that his next serious assault on a trophy would come as manager of Real Madrid.

Rafael Benítez takes his Liverpool side to the Spanish capital tonight for a Champions League clash against a Madrid team that has been transformed under Ramos. If it was winning only two points from eight games that lost the 54-year-old his job in the worst start to a season ever seen at White Hart Lane, then it is a current run of eight straight wins that are threatening to keep him in his position at the Santiago Bernabéu beyond the present campaign.

“Since I've arrived we've only dropped one point on Barcelona and we're talking about the best Barcelona team in history here,” the former Seville boss said. “Without doubt we're playing great football.”

It has also led to increased optimism and expectations amongst both the media and Madrid supporters, but Ramos is confident his players have their emotions under control.

“I think it’s more an atmosphere of optimism than euphoria. We are calm and happy at how things are developing in the league because it gives us security and confidence going into games,” said Ramos, whose side thrashed Real Betis 6-1 on Saturday, with all the goals coming in the first half.

“Maybe some fans are more happy and euphoric than others but the dressing room isn’t like that, and I’m happy with the state of the team and the way the players are approaching the game.

“It is a very tough and difficult tie and we have to work hard to get through.”

Madrid may head out onto the Bernabeu pitch in good form domestically but there are still big question marks over their European credentials.

Alex Ferguson has already said there was “no chance” of Madrid winning the Champions League this season, claiming they lacked pace as a team.

“It’s the opinion of another coach, and just as I said earlier with the question about the president, I don’t want to comment on it,” he said. “I’ll talk about my team and I don’t talk about what others say, because I’m not a controversial coach and I’m not going to get into any of this.

“I don’t talk about Liverpool either because I don’t know how they are going to play or who is going to play. What I want is for us to do as well as possible. The only thing that I know about them is that they are going to play with 11 players.”

Ramos cuts a more relaxed figure these days than during the tense times at White Hart Lane. Players had begun to speak out suggesting there were motivational problems and a lack of on-field organisation during the coach's tenure at the club. Jonathan Woodgate felt that Spurs were worse than the Leeds team that were relegated in 2004, while David Bentley admitted it seemed as though the players had no idea where they were supposed to run. In the end, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy felt compelled to act: “We don't know whether Juande would have been able to turn it around. I couldn't afford to take that risk.”

Ramos insists he has no regrets about his time in England and is proud of the fact he is the only Spaniard to manage a team to cup glory at Wembley. “I would have liked to have been there longer but I understand what happened is one of those unwritten rules of the game,” he said.

“I should have tried to learn more about the culture of English footballers better. I thought my year there was a positive one and my conscience is clear. Both I and my staff gave everything we had but that's football and all that counts at the end of the day are the results. When it was time to say goodbye it was a painful feeling for someone who couldn’t see his project bear fruit. But that’s all in the past now.”

The present represents the chance for Ramos to add the European Cup to a collection of two UEFA Cups and a European Super Cup trophy he won while becoming Sevilla’s most successful coach. Yet even if he manages to guide Madrid to their tenth triumph in European football's èlite competition, there are no guarantees he will stay.

With former club president Ramón Calderón stepping down from his duties just over a month ago, an electoral process will take place at Real this summer.

The candidates who eventually emerge to run in the campaign may be keen to bring their own man in.

“I committed to six months here and that was the best solution for both the organisation and for me,” Ramos said.

“An electoral process has opened and each candidate must be free to contact the coach he feels is most suitable for the job.

At the end of June I’ll be free and waiting to learn the future of the club and also of my own without any type of anxiety. Even if we manage to win a title, I won’t have any problem in stepping aside if the new president has other ideas.”

For the players, it seems the preferred idea would be to keep the Ramos in charge after his current deal runs out at the end of June. Spanish international defender Sergio Ramos admitted as much, saying: “We're really happy with Juande.

“We're working hard, he knows us well and he's demanding a lot from us,” he said before conceding, “It's not up to us whether he stays or not, the president and the board have to decide that.”

The defensive improvement alone has been notable with Madrid conceding just one goal in the seven games they've played this year compared to the 14 the team shipped in Bernd Schuster's last seven league games in charge.

The challenge of catching a Barcelona team currently ten points clear of Madrid may be asking too much of the man, but by getting the best out of a talented squad of players, Ramos feels he may be able to negotiate a way through the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

“If someone were to ask me what's easier to win, the league or the European Cup, I'd say the latter as there are fewer games and we depend on ourselves,” he stated.

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