All sides of the Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos’ unique personality are on show as he leads his team towards an increasingly likely La Liga and Champions League double.
Champions League semi-final 2nd leg
Atletico (0) v Real Madrid (3)
Tonight: Estadio Vincente Calderon, 7.45pm
TV: RTÉ Two, BT Sport
Ramos is an undisputed hero at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, especially thanks to his series of crucial headed goals through recent seasons.
Starting with his 93rd minute breaker of Atletico Madrid’s hearts in the 2014 Champions League final, there’s also been crucial late strikes on five different occasions, including an equaliser in last December’s La Liga Clasico at the Camp Nou.
Around the Bernabeu, fans and pundits often now talk about the ‘90-Ramos minute’, especially when time is running out and the home team need a goal from somewhere.
The man himself has even considered, tongue not even half in cheek, changing his shirt number to 93 to commemorate that 2014 goal in Lisbon.
“Believe me when I say that the thought has crossed my mind,” Ramos said in all seriousness in February.
“The number four has nearly always brought me good luck, but don’t rule out seeing me change it in my final season, as a tribute to what is such a great minute for us.”
That comment was typical Ramos, mixing a likable down to earth sensibility with a clear awareness of how much he has achieved.
Signed by Madrid for €30m from hometown club Sevilla as a teenager in 2005, he has since won 13 trophies including two Champions Leagues, three Ligas, and the Copa del Rey twice.
He’s also scored 68 goals for Los Blancos, a pretty incredible record for a defender, with 18 of his last 21 coming when Madrid were losing or tied in a game, adding to his superhero status.
Add in the 2010 World Cup and two European Championships won during 143 international caps with Spain, and his career CV ranks with the very best in football history.
Then there is the other side to Ramos’ career to date — which often has non-Madrid fans or non-Spaniards amazed at how an apparently top-class defender can be so reckless.
His positional sense and concentration levels during games can be questionable at best, often leaving him to try and rescue the situation with a risky tackle.
Hence a spectacular disciplinary record of 176 yellow cards in a Blancos shirt [one every three games more or less], and a club record 22 sendings off.
The most recent straight red card came for taking out Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in last month’s La Liga Clasico, with the game in the balance and Messi far from goal.
That meant Madrid were a man down as the Argentine hit a late winner to keep Barca in the title race, but nobody around the Bernabeu seemed to blame the skipper.
A certain bluntness when dealing with authority has also followed Ramos through his career. He fell out openly with former Madrid managers Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez just before both lost their jobs.
He also flirted publicly with Manchester United in summer 2015, defying club president Florentino Perez to force through a new contract which showed him the respect — in terms of millions of euros — he felt he deserved.
Whatever your view, Ramos always fascinates. So reporters at Madrid’s training ground yesterday morning were delighted to see him ahead of tonight’s Champions League semi-final second leg meeting with their nearest neighbours.
The idea of the plucky, working class Atletico battling Robin Hood-like against the aristocratic, conceited Madrid was raised by a local journalist, who claimed Diego Simeone’s side had been deliberately trying to heat up the atmosphere around the latest ‘derbi’ clash.
“I really couldn’t care less,” Ramos began, but then couldn’t help himself taking the bait. “Here (at Real) it seems sometimes as if (people think) we were all brought up in Beverly Hills, with more than €40m in our current accounts.
"We have people who were born in the ‘barrio’ too and came up that way. These campaigns, these tweets, you must respect them, but it will not change our values, our humility and our sacrifice on the pitch. This is football, it is 11 against 11.”
Ramos is definitely from ‘the barrio’ — having grown up in Camas, a working class suburb of Seville. Whether he remains ‘humble’ is more difficult to confirm. His personal fleet of vehicles includes a Mercedes-AMG GT S sportscar and James Bond style Aston Martin.
He also owns a huge stud farm near Seville, where he raises horses for bullfighting and spends downtime with his TV presenter partner Pilar Rubio and their two young children.
“It is often hard to walk down the street with the people,” he told El Pais last year. “Sometimes it is overwhelming. That is why I need my refuge, my hidden sanctuary, my ranch. It is the ideal place for me, where I can go around in quiet without being observed.”
While in the public eye, Ramos does not always enjoy the close scrutiny.
In early March, Spanish statistician Mister Chip found that, to that point in 2016/17, Madrid had conceded three times as many goals when their supposed best defender was on the pitch.
Then in the very next game, the Los Blancos defence he was leading was regularly opened up at Napoli in the Champions League last 16. The Serie A side’s Dries Mertens opened the scoring, and at half-time it looked like the competition holders were in deep trouble.
Just after the break though, Ramos rose to the occasion again, heading in two Toni Kroos corners to ensure passage to the next round.
“I’m just happy that we achieved our objective, which was to go through,” Ramos said afterwards.
“It was my 100th game in the competition, and I was able to help the team with goals when we were going through a delicate moment. A week ago the critics were killing me. Today I’m not a hero for scoring two goals. I just try and do my job as well as I can.”
Now 31, Ramos shows no sign of changing. He also has a very good chance of lifting both the La Liga and Champions League trophies over the next few weeks.
Zinedine Zidane’s superstar-filled side are huge favourites to progress tonight given their 3-0 lead from the first-leg, while they will hold off Barca to win a first domestic title in five years if they take seven points from their last three league games.
“Over my career I have won some and lost some,” Ramos said yesterday.
“Obviously I prefer more to win, but I have learned more from the defeats. I do have a nice memory of the two Champions League finals we won. But in football you must reset yourself every year.
“When I retire, I will look back and value what I have achieved.”
It is a bit early yet to be talking about retirement, but we will definitely miss Sergio Ramos when he does hang up his boots. For better or worse, football is just more fun when he is around.
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