Manuel Neuer was standing tall, with his feet firmly planted to the ground. Los Blancos were facing the Bavarians in their quest for 10th European glory in the semi-finals and both teams were inseparable after 210 minutes of football. Following the penalty misses of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, Sergio Ramos stepped up, with millions of hopes pinned on him. Ramos, unpredictable as ever, took a slow run-up and made the worst attempt of the night. The ball went way over the bar, which meant that Real Madrid suffered another debacle in the Champions League.
The expectations are always sky high in the Royal city of Spain and so is the criticism. Sergio Ramos was the punching bag following the Champions League defeat in 2012. After all, the mercurial centre-back always gives the world something to talk about. Little did people knew that the warrior from Seville is a tough nut to crack. Following his horrendous penalty miss, Ramos took the responsibility again – this time for Spain and in the Euro 2012 semi-final. Bold and uncompromising as ever, Ramos showed no signs of fear as he dinked the penalty home past Portugal’s goalkeeper, Rui Patricio.
“I had it all planned out because of the pain of the semi-final against Bayern. It wasn’t so much that I missed against Bayern, but the fact that people immediately questioned my will or my ability to face that responsibility and to triumph. My pride was stung, so I decided right then to demonstrate in a style that they were all wrong.”
That was not the only time where Ramos proved himself right and capable. The centre-back vowed to win the Champions League with Los Blancos after their collective failure against Bayern Munich and he kept his promise. Two years later, Ramos left his footprints in the Allianz Arena before making a historical leap in the final. With a slender lead to defend, Real Madrid were not the favourites to win the tie against Bayern at their own den. But Ramos obviously had other plans. His two bullet headers in the span of five minutes left the Bavarians on the ground and secured his team’s spot in the Champions League finals after 2002.
Despite his heroics in the semi-final and defensive brilliance throughout the tournament, the most important moment in his life arrived in the 92nd minute against Atletico Madrid in the finals. Atletico were just few minutes away from securing a Champions League win and the biggest coup against their eternal rivals, Real Madrid. The Royal whites pushed the Rojiblancos since they conceded a goal in the first half but they were unable to break the gritty defensive lines and barriers of their opponents.
Cristiano Ronaldo and co. knew that the cup was slipping away but Atletico were defending everything thrown at them. Luka Modric quickly went on to take the corner in the 92nd minute and Ramos leapt higher than anyone else on the pitch to head the ball home. The scoreline after the end of the match showed 4-1 in the favour of Real Madrid but the importance of Ramos’ header remains priceless and possibly, signifying the beginning of modern era’s greatest Champions League team. Ramos led Madrid to unprecedented glory from 2015/16 to 2017/18, where Los Blancos won the tournament three consecutive times.
“I have been here a long time, I know what it means to have this badge on your chest.”
The initial years in his ongoing 14-year love story with Real Madrid was not that easy. Santiago Bernabeu is known for being merciless and Ramos had a lot to learn. But the distinct lack of fear, commitment and audacity helped him overcome his failures and made him what he is today. Ramos failed countless times and had his fair share of bitter memories but he kept fighting back. Now, the centre-back will surpass Roberto Carlos’ record of most Champions League appearances for a defender when Real Madrid takes on Galatasaray next in the group stages.
Ramos’ legacy is incomparable when it comes to Real Madrid. No other Madrid captain has won the Champions League three times- the great Manolo Sanchis was twice European Cup winner as a captain while the likes of Paco Gento, Fernando Hierro and Iker Casillas won only once as a captain. Ramos has won everything there is to win for both his country and his club- four La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, two Copa del Rey titles among other notable accolades. But his legacy lies outside the numerous trophies and individual accolades he has won in his decorated career.
“He symbolises the values of Real Madrid.” – Zinedine Zidane.
Ramos joined Real Madrid from Sevilla at a young age of 19 in 2005 and remains the only player from that batch to stay at the club. His birthplace is famous for bull-fighting and Ramos himself never hid his love for the sport. In fact, he did enjoy his experience at the crazy sport in his younger days which would explain a lot about his fearlessness. Ramos is also known for facing situations head-on no matter how huge the problem is- which makes him the true leader of Real Madrid. His audacity parallels how Real Madrid is as a football club in a way, which explains why Madridistas admire him so much.
Ramos was a natural centre-back but he shifted to the right-back position when the club signed Pepe and Metzelder. He then slowly reverted into the central defensive position as his career went on. He endured one of the worst stages in Madrid’s history when their rivals were flying high under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola. The Spanish warrior is not perfect either and had his fair share of difficulties. His record of accumulating red cards remains one of the bitter sides of Ramos but he has overpowered his negative side with his goal-scoring prowess, which is quite uncanny for a centre-back.
Madrid’s recent draw against Club Brugge in the Champions League is a typical example of a Sergio Ramos match. The collective defensive lapses were the reason why they were 2-0 down in the first half but Ramos led the comeback as he scored the Madrid’s opener. Ramos leaving his defensive duties and charging upfront is a familiar sight for football fans which has reaped dividends for the club time and again. The prime example of Ramos’ versatility is the 2016/17 season, where Ramos made a habit of scoring last-minute goals to win points for his team week after week.
“If you don’t like how we play, then turn off the tv”
Despite the heavy criticisms of his defensive lapses, Ramos forms the most integral part of Madrid’s backbone. The defensive structure improves and undoubtedly, the team plays with extra confidence and motivation under his leadership. Notably, the captain was absent when Los Blancos suffered humiliation from a young Ajax team in the Champions League at the Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid left with a lead against Ajax from the Netherlands where Ramos took a deliberate yellow card to give himself rest- a move which cost his team dearly.
That’s basically how Ramos operates- with a dash of light and dark. Either you are with him or you are against him. Despite his flaws, his team comes above everything and everyone else. He takes responsibility for his negatives and promises to come back stronger. He is unflinching in the face of danger and uncompromising when it comes to his club. In a way, he symbolizes the club with his passion, fearlessness and audacity. When Ramos speaks, everyone takes note. ‘Neighbours’ envy and owner’s pride’ is the right phrase to describe the captain of Los Blancos but while some may not admire him, it is foolish to ignore what Ramos embodies every time he dons the white shirt.
Written by Sayan Chatterjee
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