Real Madrid has always been a club full of superstars. The team which conquered Europe from 1956-60 was a collection of stars such as Francisco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano, Hector Rial, Raymond Kopa and Ferenc Puskas among many others. In the 80’s, the Quinta del Buitre consisting of Emilio Butragueno, Miguel Pardeza, Manuel Sanchis, Martin Vasquez and Michel were the star attraction. This tradition has only been escalated by Florentino Perez over his two terms as President. His initial ‘ Zidanes y Pavones’ policy , which aimed to build a team with a balance of youth players and Galacticos, soon gave away to only relying on the latter.
The star players have often been extremely talented individuals who have positively contributed to the team. Football is and has always been about competition and success. But an important concept which is sometimes forgotten especially in today’s game is passion. Not the passion associated with purely winning with a competitive spirit. But the passion that arises from loving a club and playing your heart out for it’s cause.
Those sort of players are rare in the game now because players rarely stay at clubs for extended periods of time. That sort of passion is only found in youth players or players who have developed a deep relationship with a club over a long period of time. They are essentially fans of the club who feel all of the emotions associated with victory and defeat in an aspect that is non-professional. That is why fans often develop closer relationships with such players: they are one of us.
This is in no way a slight to other types of players. Football is a profession and they too are ecstatic in victory and despondent in defeat but it is a different type of reaction. Taking an example of a club like Arsenal FC, winning a trophy would mean the same to Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez from a professional viewpoint but possibly on a deeper, emotional level it means more to a homegrown youth product like Wilshere because he is a fan of the club. To further this point, if for example Wilshere won a trophy at PSG, he would be happy not in the same way winning at Arsenal would make him feel. As a fan, I( and hopefully everyone else as well) can understand this distinction.
Madrid have had some esteemed youth products who have gone onto have success in the first team. The pinnacle of La Fabricia’s production has to be the previously mentioned Quinte Del Buitre in the 80’s. Other legendary youth products have been Raul, Guti and Iker Casillas. However, this still pales in comparison to other European heavyweights. La Fabricia has been producing top-level talent but the opportunities to break into the first team have been limited for most players. In the high-pressure environment at the Bernabeu, instant results are needed and managers are therefore not willing to gamble on young, unproven talents.
Fans clamour and desire for these youth players to be included but at the same time also demand immediate success which is tough to deliver. Aside from the obvious financial advantage, there is the additional happiness of seeing one of our own succeeding. Ever since Casillas broke into the team in 1999/2000, no youth product has managed to straight away make the transition into the first 11 at Madrid. Players such as Dani Carvajal, Diego Lopez and Alvaro Arbeloa have managed to hold down a place in the 11 but only after first finding their feet at other clubs. Others such as Esteban Granero and Jose Callejon left, returned to play squad roles and have again subsequently left for new pastures. Others such as Juan Mata, Samuel Eto’o, Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado have established them at other clubs.
The fans have not had one of their own playing for the team in a while then. Alvaro Morata was a real big hope but he too had to leave. Jese could still make the cut but the window is rapidly closing. However, other players have come in and filled this void. Marcelo came from Fluminense at 18 and truly loves the club. Pepe came from Porto at 25 but also seems to truly care for the team like a fan. But one man stands out in the crowd. He is an absolute icon and the embodiment of Madridismo. He comes from Sevilla but belongs at Madrid. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and is woven into the fabric of this club: Sergio Ramos.
Ramos was signed as a 19 year old from Sevilla for $30 million and has more or less been a mainstay in the team ever since. However, there seems to be some significant upheaval with respect to his contract situation this summer with very concrete rumours about a possible move to England emerging. As one of the senior figures in the team, Ramos wants his current $6 million contract to be upgraded to $10 million which Perez supposedly refuses to do. This conflict has been openly played out in the media. Outrageous rumours that Ramos was offered to a Barcelona presidential candiate have been followed by constant speculation over a move to Manchester United. Both sides ( Perez and Ramos) are probably guilty of using dirty tactics but at the end of day the conclusion is the same : Sergio Ramos must absolutely stay at Real Madrid.
Before analyzing this in the narrative of what he means to the club, we must talk about Ramos as a football player itself. Ramos has mainly played as a right back and more recently as a centre back, with very rare forays into defensive midfield. It is the safe to say the days of right-back are over. Ramos was a Euro and World-Cup winning right back but permanently made the transition to centre-back in the 2011-2012 season when Ricardo Carvalho got injured. In my opinion, Ramos is undoubtedly one of the top 5 current centre backs in the game and when in top form a top 3 centre back.
As a defender, Ramos is almost complete. He is quick, a strong tackler, good in the air and well positioned. He is capable of playing the ball well out from the back and provides an exceptional threat from corners. His aggressive style of play unsettles most forwards and is an integral part of his game. He definitely knows how to play dirty and is able to adapt his game to counter various types of forwards. From a defensive viewpoint, his only real weakness is defending set-pieces but the same can be consistently said for almost every Madrid defender. He is also occasionally rash and loses his cool. This is reflected in his astounding disciplinary record. At Madrid alone, he has been booked 157 times with 19 red cards. I personally believe the bulk of those cards are unavoidable due to the nature of his game but he could definitely improve on the rashness. Also the red cards have been due to rash and cynical tackles as compared to outright Pepe style red cards ( very fine line and most of the times non existent).
Currently, only Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Diego Godin, Giorgio Chiellini and Pepe( on top form) can compare to Ramos at centre back. Raphael Varane, possibly Marquinhos and Mats Hummels will soon be there. Vincent Kompany, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Carles Puyol and Nemanja Vidic and a few others were there. Laurent Koscielny, Jerome Boateng, Mehdi Benatia and a few others have established themselves but in a tier below. In all of the categories, I may have missed a few names. All of this is obviously my personal opinion and everyone may have their own choices.
Ramos has definitely been involved in some horror shows over the years. Some of the performances which come to mind are: 5-0 against Barca in 2010, 5-2 against Holland in 2014 World Cup, 4-1 against Borussia Dortmund in 2013 Champions League, 6-2 against Barca in 2009 among others. However, in all of these games, the entire defensive unit was an absolute disaster. Every defender has a few off days and that applies to Ramos as well. There are definitely games where he has been the main culprit, the 2014-2015 Juventus semifinal being an example. The best defenders minimize the number of bad days they have and consistently perform to an exceptional standard.
In Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Ramos was a defensive rock. The same is true for almost every league season he has recently. He also steps up in the big games: defensively and occasionally offensively as well. Personally his performance in the second leg 2012-2013 Champions League semi final against Dortmund when Madrid tried to overcome a 4-1 deficit comes to mind. The sheer aggression and defensive showing were stunning in that game. After a field day back in Dortmund, Lewandowski was really destroyed, at times even literally. the mix of aerial superiority, good positioning, solid and cynical tackles was a joy to watch. He certainly has had better games but that performance has stuck in my head. My view is definitely coloured by the emotions that game provoked and I will return to this game when talking about what Ramos means to the club.
Another great performance was across both legs in the 2013-2014 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. He was stunning at the back and also scored 2 vital goals which essentially sent Madrid to the final. The final is a whole other topic which I don't need to add more to. Every Madridista will remember that performance.
At 29 years, Ramos is as his peak and can essentially sustain that level for a good 3-5 years especially with a young, pacey Varane alongside him. Pepe has played very well over the last few years but at 32, his time is limited. Nacho is and will always be only a squad player. If Ramos is sold, a top quality centre back will have to be bought. In the current market, not only is that rare but prices are insanely inflated. Selling him from a footballing standpoint would be a horrible blunder. Madrid are one of the very few teams with 3 world class centre backs and breaking up that dynamic would be stupid.
Equally important is what he means to the club. He is undoubtedly the icon of this team, the man who plays with the most passion week in week out. Casillas should not be playing next season and will possibly be sold. Either way Ramos is and has been the captain of this team. winning and losing make him happy and hurt him in the same way it affects us. And that is the key. There is a distinct lack of those type of players at the club. With the exception of Marcelo, noone else in the first 11 is outright passionate about the club the way Ramos is. Bale, Ronaldo and co are fit into the Arsenal analogy in the Alexis Sanchez mould: happy to win, sad to lose but from a professional, competitive standpoint. As a player, his emotions are obviously best seen when scoring or winning/losing a big game. Ramos crying after the Dortmund game was truly moving.
He is a colossal player, one of the pillars of this team and certainly one of its most important players. The man needs to stay because at least for me it is important that some of the players love the club. Looking at Barca, esp around 2011/2012, I am bitter when I see so many players who really love the club. Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Alves, Busquets, Messi, Pedro etc. His loss would also be devastating in terms of personnel.
Ramos has already secured his place in Madrid history. Especially with that 92:48 goal. Granted I have only been watching Madrid play for around 11 years, but I believe he is a proper legend of this club. I hope he stays, especially now that he will be undisputed captain of the team. Give him his new contract. After all Bale and Benzema earn more than $10 million. The demand is not even outrageous. Personally, I would just hate Perez even more if he lets Ramos go after he sold two of my favourite players, Ozil( still miss him so much ) and Di Maria. Ramos too is probably guilty of playing dirty games in the media but the end result should be him staying at Madrid.
Note: I said undisputed captain because 1) Casillas should not be in first 11 next season. 2) Sadly Iker should be sold. 3) Even if Casillas plays, Ramos is the real leader now.