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Why Real Madrid are playing hard ball with Sergio Ramos’s contract

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Elche v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

As of New Years day, Sergio Ramos’s Real Madrid career is on the clock. The club captain now has just six months to negotiate a renewal before his current deal with Los Blancos runs out. It’s a startling situation that the future of a living club legend seems set to go down to the wire and finding out exactly why things have transpired as they have is difficult. Marca and AS both reporting different issues with offer while El Chringuito have reported that the Spanish captain was offered two deals.

As upsetting as Ramos’s situation is for all Madridistas, its not really that surprising. Real Madrid have always been notoriously tough negotiators when it comes to players over the age of 30 and generally only offer their veterans one year extensions. This is a policy that is present in top European sides like Chelsea, however, few have the continuity in enforcing the policy like Real Madrid.

The policy itself was first introduced by Santiago Bernabeu himself in the 1940s. Since then many a club legend has fallen victim to the club’s strong upholding of the policy, the first high profile one being Pahiño. Real’s star player during the 40s, Pahiño had established himself as Real Madrid’s runaway all time top goalscorer when he went to the negotiating table in 1953. Having just turned 30 that year, Bernabeu refused to offer him more than a year long contract and Pahiño left for Deportivo that summer, much to the frustration of Alfredo Di Stefano.

The Argentine eventually himself fell foul of the policy with his final five years at Real Madrid being renewed on an annual basis. When the club felt his playing days were over following the 1964 European Cup final, they offered him a staff contract rather than a playing one. Di Stefano rejected the offer and moved to Espanyol to finish his playing career on his own terms.

The control factor seems to be the main motivation behind Bernabeu enacting the policy. The former president was a control freak during his reign at the club, even down to setting ticket prices. He also managed his players personal finances, having Raimundo Saporta set up saving accounts for each player, meaning they had to ask permission if they wanted to buy something. It took Di Stefano two years to convince Bernabeu to let him buy a car.

As one of Bernabeu’s most committed disciples, Perez has been similarly strict in enforcing the over 30s policy. Stephen Mandis discussed Real Madrid’s approach to contracts in his book The Real Madrid Way, stating the current regime is committed to treating all players fairly. All contracts are standardized according to Mandis, with the only terms differing from player to player being the wage, something that is dictated by demand, skill and performance. This commitment to treating each player fairly certainly seems to be true to this day. Luka Modric has been reported to have accepted a year long contract which includes an unspecified wage reduction. One imagines a similar line is being taken with Lucas Vazquez.

Despite this consistency, there have been a handful of concrete exceptions. For instance, Ferenc Puskas first contract with Real was four years long despite him being 31, however, there is no evidence that when that deal expired in 1962 that he was treated any differently than Di Stefano. In fact, the main difference between the two players deals in 1964 was that Puskas was offered a playing deal and Di Stefano wasn’t, probably a reflection of Di Stefano’s relationship with Miguel Munoz more than anything else.

More recent exceptions would be Iker Casillas and Raul, who signed life long contracts in 2008. The deals initially tied the duo to Real until 2017 and would roll over for another year if either player played 30 or more games the previous season. The caveat to those deals were that they were made under Ramon Calderon’s administration and the club maintained a similar control to the over 30 policy as Raul and Casillas wouldn’t have been able to negotiate their salary without jeopardizing their rolling contract.

The most blatant break from Real Madrid’s over 30s policy was with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017. Ronaldo was given a four year deal at the age of 31 with no strings attached. Whether Sergio Ramos is worthy of such of an exception is a matter of personal opinion.

Publicly, Sergio has been frank about his desire to retire at Real Madrid and, having been here for 16 years, he should be well informed about the sacrifices generally required to do that. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that Real are strapped for cash at the moment and, in line with Mandis’s book, everyone who is negotiating contracts at the moment are facing wage reductions.

On the other hand, COVID-19 is a double edged excuse as Real Madrid don’t really have the money to “replace” Ramos and, even then, no player is going to be able to fill the void that the captain would leave behind. Naturally, there is a tendency to blame one party or another for this predicament arising, however, there isn’t really any blame to be given. Real Madrid continue to endorse this policy as it gives them control over their future and allows them to assess older (and generally higher earning) players on a season by season basis and decide whether said investment is best for the club’s future. That is a very powerful tool and it’s maintained by treating almost all players the same and not spending anytime explaining the unusual exceptions that I listed above.

Sergio Ramos is in much the same position as Madrid in the sense that he also has to make the best decision for his career and family. It’s up to both parties to either find middle ground or go their separate ways.