On Saturday evening, Sergio Ramos became the most capped player in the history of the Spanish national team. Of course, plenty of praise ensued, as the 33-year-old central defender has added this remarkable feat to an already impressive collection of records and silverware.
Ramos is also considering joining Spain’s Olympic team next summer. Doing so would see him play both Euro20 and the Olympic games in less than a month, but bearing in mind that an Olympic medal is probably the only thing missing in Ramos’ trophy cabinet, one can understand his willingness to devote a period of the season he would desperately need to get some rest to this high-profile endeavours.
The problem is that this season Ramos, with his undoubted experience, is performing worse than any of the potential members of that Olympic team. It does not really matter whether you focus your analysis of his displays on his appearances with Real Madrid or with the Spanish national team. So far, Ramos’ season has been plagued with bizarrely misplaced passes – last night he added another example with a gift to Norway’s King who didn’t take advantage of it eventually --, errors of judgement being the last man of the defence, unexplainable positionings when the opposition crosses, fouls way to blatant even for his own blatant standards… Judging by what we’ve seen so far, Ramos is asking to be included in the Olympic team out of reputation, not out of performance.
I really expected different from Ramos this season, and I still do. Remember, he comes off two extremely frustrating months of April and May: his first mistake was admitting that he’d forced that yellow card against Ajax in the first leg. He’d done marvellously that night, and was sorely missed in the return leg as well as in Paris this season – he got a two-match suspension for his troubles that arguably cost the team the semis last season and a 3-0 thrashing this one.
If that wasn’t something to be proud of, he simply didn’t show up for the rest of the season. That’d leave quite a mark for any player at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Ramos isn’t any player: he’s the skipper, and similarly to Zidane, who came back to endure three awful months in which there were no titles in play, many expected something along those lines from Ramos. It did not happen.
That is why I was looking forward to his coming back after the summer. When the season was about to start I remembered that, after his flirt with Manchester United and his contract extension in August 2015, I thought he’d let himself go a bit, but he returned in his best shape in years. It was the opposite of what most players would do after signing a big contract. Ramos wanted to prove the club right with its decision, and so far it has indeed being the correct one.
However, something seems off this season, and it does not look like a physical issue. He’s shown his usual speed when quick forwards have tested him, so it does look like a matter of concentration. Barring injuries, Ramos meets every single requirement to play the centre back position as well as anyone else in the planet. His track record gives good evidence of that. But we’ve also seen that his biggest weakness lies on his mental lapses: loses focus, believes he’s so much better than the opposing striker, thinks he’ll always be a bit faster, a bit stronger… But then ends up suffering against a physical, mobile striker like Norway’s King, who although competent is hardly world class in his position.
I’d love it if Ramos ends up proving me wrong at the end of the season, but he’s sending all the wrong signals so far. Like Fernando Alonso in car racing, Sergio seems to be looking elsewhere to enlarge his collection of titles, rather than focusing on the titles that really matter when all is said and done. And this squad, with their obvious limitations, can’t afford an out of focus Sergio Ramos.