Sergio Ramos wants you to love him
What does a sugar-coated documentary mean for football's greatest shithouse?
"People tend to put you inside a box. That’s how it works and that’s where I am. But I think in the documentary you will see things that nobody knew before." - Sergio Ramos.
My favourite part of the new Prime documentary, El Corazón de Sergio Ramos, is when his mother (Francisca) and father (Jose Maria) are discussing how he behaved as a child.
"Do you remember when they played against each other in a tournament? The two in a friendly. Back when René also used to play soccer... and his brother broke his nose whilst jumping."
René apparently told a young Sergio "Hey, I'm your brother!", to which the future king of shithousery, very much on-brand even at this stage, replied: "There are no brothers in soccer. We are rivals. There are no brothers."
"So brutal", his mother adds whilst his father just sits there next to her, eyes glazing over with pride, wondering where the years went.
Now René works for his younger brother and runs his own football agency business. Now Sergio captains Real Madrid, the Spanish National Team and has granted a documentary team unrestricted access to his home and family to film an eight-part series following every aspect of his personal and professional life in an effort to convince people, gasp, he's not actually a bad guy.
If you had ever wished for a television series that shows Sergio Ramos doing all the things that you can't ever really imagine Sergio Ramos doing, then, well, this is it. This is for you.
(Disclaimer: I am one of these people.)
You will see him paint his face like he's in Kiss. You'll see him melancholically chew through a salad as he discusses an El Clásico drubbing with his wife. You'll see him wear loads of different hats. You'll see him get an oily calf massage and chat to his masseuse like a therapist. You'll see him walk his five dogs and repeatedly shout after 'Jagger', one of the big ones. You'll see him make his children breakfast. A banana cut up and arranged with other pieces of fruit in the shape of a dog. You'll see him practice free-kicks, like, all the time. You'll see him walk around an art gallery and look at the paintings. You'll see him sing and clap and play flamenco music on his guitar. You'll see him present a television show. And sing and clap and play his guitar live on television. You'll see him passionately explain the virtues of music. You'll see him talk about his horse, Yucatan. You'll see him visibly swell with emotion after his horse, Yucatan, wins SICAB 2018.
That's some kind of horse competition, by the way. An important one. To find and crown the best horse in the world, basically.
You'll hear the joy in his voice when he says he has the best horse in the world. You'll see him practice special handshakes with Lucas Vazquez. You'll see him make fun of Luka Modric just for taking a phone call. And speaking in Croatian. Yeah. You'll see him press his fingers to his ears as he jumps into an ice bath after a crushing defeat and you'll see him give his brother tips on shaving, advising him how to keep the lower neck as smooth as possible.
And you'll see him, repeatedly, panenka. Loads of panenkas. An impossible amount of panenkas. Like several times an episode. Dinked peno after dinked peno after dinked peno. An absolute truckload of shithouse penalties leaving goalkeepers on their arse. Way more than you could ever wish for, to be honest.
My second favourite part of the Sergio Ramos documentary is when, during a family game of football in his back garden, he manages to shithouse the opposing team (his family). One consisting of his wife, his youngest son Alejandro being carried in her arms and his second youngest Marco - the only true outfield player. All so he and his teammate, his oldest son Sergio Junior, who wanted to be on his dad's side because they share the same name, which is adorable, can score a goal.
Even in a back garden game with miniature nets he can't help but resort to the dark arts. He allows his son Marco to score, which is nice, but then tells him to go and celebrate with his mother. Marco happily obliges, running into her arms. Whilst all that is going on, Sergio Ramos grabs his other son's hand, points at the undefended goalmouth ahead of them and dribbles up the pitch so he can kick the ball into the empty net.
Cue limbs for the two Sergios, exulting in their own cunning bastardry.
My third favourite part of the Sergio Ramos documentary happens in the very first episode, when he describes how he met his wife Pilar Rubio, a television presenter. According to Ramos, "they met in a very curious way" after he dreamt about her three nights in a row. As a result, he told his sister, his brother-in-law and a close friend about the dreams, with the belief that he had to get a message to her "just in case."
Meeting him at the London premiere of the documentary and living out a personal dream of mine since the very first time I elbowed an opposition forward in the ribs whilst jumping for a header; since I got caught flatfooted on the turn and responded by pulling the accelerating player back to me via their shirt; since I slammed my first header into the bottom corner from a set-piece; I couldn't turn down the opportunity to ask him about this: how he slid into her DMs as enthusiastically as he flies into man-and-ball slide tackles into the advertising hoardings.
Sat in a short roundtable interview and with only a few minutes remaining, I took the only chance I'd probably ever get to ask a soon-to-be legendary footballer for love-life advice and said, only half-jokingly, only half-confidently: "Sergio, as someone who is still potentially looking to meet my future wife via Instagram DM, I'd just like to know what the message said and whether you had any advice for me going forward."
Unfortunately, my actual question was somewhat lost in translation through his accompanying interpreter. I did, however, receive a lot of eye-contact, a big smile and a rather heartwarming answer to a different question, explaining in detail the self-doubt and uncertainty he had when committing to the bold move but how it all worked out in the end. Because of love.
Or maybe because he is Sergio Ramos.
"As you saw in the documentary, it was a very weird thing to dream three nights in a row of the same person", cut to me nodding intensely, "Of course I knew her as she is famous in my country too because she’s a TV host but we had no links in our two personal lives", cut to me stroking my chin and making noises like uh-huh, uh-huh, "So yes I sent this first message and try to approach her through different people and I really wasn’t sure or confident about getting any good outcome of this," cut to me consciously trying to stop myself from saying awwww or reaching out and stroking his leg to comfort him, "But it worked. My strategy worked. And we met and we dated and now she’s my wife, the mother of my kids and the love of my life," cut to me, intense, unflinching eye-contact, trying to stop my eyes from watering, heart ablaze with the joy and triumph of this, a footballer, no, a shithouse, well and truly in love.
My fourth favourite moment of the Sergio Ramos documentary is...
On Sunday, Ramos became the joint most capped player and tenth highest goal scorer in Spain's history - making his 167th appearance in a 4-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands. Not only this, but he is now the joint ninth most capped male footballer of all time, just 17 games away from Ahmed Hassan's record for Egypt. His individual honours list is arguably one of the finest ever assembled by a defender and his trophy cabinet - containing four La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, two European Championships, one World Cup - is fit to burst.
It is clear, however, that despite the innumerable accolades he is still attempting to fight this almost universally marmite idea of him that exists. A fine player but one who, in the minds of most, too often veers into unforgivable territory with his nasty, prickly, rugged style of defending.
Sergio Ramos doesn't just get under the skin of opposing fans, he practically lives there in his own swanky condo. Basically any casual fan who has tuned into a Champions League knockout game over the last five years hates him, getting all aghast at slow-motion replays of his off-the-ball roughhousing. Beyond that, he is also, at this point, completely embedded into the dermis of Atletico, Barcelona, Liverpool supporters like one of those tropical insects you occasionally read about and which occasionally scare the living shit out of you until you forget they exist because you don't regularly frequent the inner-depths of the Amazonian rainforest.
He is football's pantomime villain through virtue of his own undeniable success, longevity and stature in the game. He is its Cruella De Vil and Captain Hook and whoever the bad person is in all the other pantomimes I have never, ever seen because pantomimes are unequivocally terrible, rolled into one.
As fascinating an insight into how artistic Sergio Ramos can be with a fruit breakfast as El Corazón de Sergio Ramos is, and as much as it does serve as an honest, magnified look into one of the most turbulent, dysfunctional Real Madrid seasons in recent memory, arguably since they had the likes of Julien Faubert and Lassana Diarra and Jerzy Dudek and Royston Drenthe turning out for them in the post-Galactico wilderness years, it isn't going to convince the Ramos haters, the endless, endless Liverpool twitter trolls, or anyone else, the more normal people, that they should drop their pitchforks and just accept the man as the best centre-back of the modern era and even more importantly, as a really, really lovely bloke.
It's never going to happen.
Similarly, if, like me, you have spent the entirety of Ramos' professional career completely enamoured with him, mostly for the constant, ceaseless audacity of everything he does but also for the antics, the unpredictability, the big-game, Two-Face performances where he seems to flip a coin like Harvey Dent, save the day or self-destruct, then this won't leave much of a lasting impression.
Let's be clear. We don't really care that he's a traditional family man, or that he quite clearly loves his kids and his wife and his extended family more than anything else in the world, or that he genuinely comes across as intelligent, caring, thoughtful, way less brash and way more introspective than anyone who has ever watched him accidentally-on-purpose fling an elbow into the face of a striker ever thought possible.
But that's evidently the point of the documentary, to show he has a heart and to soften the edges. Here it is, a new and improved flavour, a Sergio Ramos vitamin chewable. Suitable for ages 3 upwards.
Cut out enough scenes and you can make any 18 into a PG. In El Corazón de Sergio Ramos, however, the balance is off. They dilute the most fabulous antihero football has possibly ever had too much, turning him into, and just imagine that the voice of your internal narrator is wavering slightly now, a fairly mundane, fairly tame, fairly vapid figure.
Ramos' cult of personality exists precisely because he is as divisive as British referenda, precisely because he is full of internal contradictions, notably in playing style (an impossibly elegant and composed, almost Beckham-ish ball-playing centre-half prone to bouts of severe, catastrophic headloss), precisely because he boils so much piss whilst, simultaneously, so often letting his own piss boil.
My three favourite parts of the new Amazon Prime documentary about Sergio Ramos were the parts where he was most Sergio Ramos, not in his own mind, or even in reality, but to us. The anecdote about him breaking his brother's nose in a childhood game of football, the bit where he tricks his own family to score a goal, the part where he dreamt about his future wife and because he is Sergio Ramos, soon made it happen. All three were just so perfectly in-line with our projection of him; the pre-eminent, all-conquering, win-at-all-costs scoundrel.
My fourth favourite part was when the series ended and I could try and forget all the charming and personable and endearing moments that I had witnessed in the documentary, all the unimportant stuff, basically, and continue pretending this glorious shithouse of a footballer existed in that exact state all of the time and will continue to, forever.
He might not have realised it but the unique place Ramos occupies in the collective football hivemind is already borne out of love, albeit a kind of weird, twisted, begrudging affection. The kind you have for your hometown's only obviously-dreadful nightclub.
In effect, the documentary admits that Sergio Ramos cares what people think about him. That's just human. You can forgive him for that.
You only wish the documented revelation had come after retirement, perhaps as the most capped international footballer of all time, just so we could forget reality and soak in the grandiose fiction of our own narratives that little bit longer.
It is a fantasy of our own creation, of course, but then that's why it is so gripping. That's why it sticks. Sergio Ramos is apparently the nicest man in the world. That's no good. No use. Let's quietly tuck the notion away, replace the mask upon his face and pretend it never happened all so we can carry on with this heroic make-believe monster it kills us to see win, or overjoys us to see lose. The one we love to hate, or the bad guy we loved just because he was the bad guy in the first place.