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28th May 2018

Football needs super villains like Sergio Ramos

He rubs some people up the wrong way, but the game is richer for him

Reuben Pinder

He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but we would all love to have him on our team

Saturday’s Champions League final provided more than a few talking points. Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League, Gareth Bale scored one of the greatest goals of all time, but the most significant moment of the game came before the first goal, when Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos pulled Mohamed Salah to the ground, dislocating the Liverpool player’s shoulder in the process.

There has since been non-stop debate about whether Ramos went into the challenge with malicious intent. Many people have cited Ramos’ disciplinary record as a reason to believe it was a calculated assault on Liverpool’s best player. This debate is ultimately futile as only Ramos will know what he was thinking as he locked arms with Salah, but on the face of it, the challenge appeared more instinctive than pre-meditated. Ramos saw an opportunity to send a message to Salah and took it. This is the big league, mate, and we’re not going to let you win. The injury was merely an unfortunate consequence of two players colliding in a contact sport.

Anger towards Ramos from Liverpool fans is understandable; it changed the game. It blunted Liverpool’s attack and gave Madrid the upper hand. But once the dust has settled, we must take a step back and acknowledge the fact that Ramos is the type of player every fan would want on their team. The only thing that mattered to Ramos that night was bringing home another Champions League trophy, and he made sure that happened by any means necessary.

Older Liverpool fans in particular, should look introspectively and remember how Graeme Souness was adored for his aggression on the pitch. Aggressive, passionate players make football the great sport that it is, just as much as the silky dribblers and the delicate playmakers. For every Lionel Messi, there must be a Sergio Ramos. For every Iniesta, a Roy Keane.

Ramos encapsulates his club. He is uncompromising, will settle for nothing less than first place and will do anything and everything to win. The Spanish press coined the phrase “minuto noventa y Ramos” (minute ninety Ramos) as a result of his tendency to dig Madrid out of holes in the dying moments of games. He scored 10 goals from centre-back in the 2016/17 season, justifying the “defender with a striker’s brain” tag he picked up during his youth. Show me a football fan who doesn’t want that sort of player on their team and I will show you a liar.

While winning is the be all and end all for most players, fans seek something different from the game. We want to see players put their bodies on the line for the badge, we want stories, we want drama. Nobody ticks those boxes more than Ramos.

He is the ultimate pantomime villain of the sport. He’s Joffrey Baratheon. Don Draper. Gus Fring. You don’t like him, at least you don’t want to. But you are fixated on him. He carries himself with the swagger of a man who knows exactly how good he is and will remind you at every given opportunity.

He’ll clip your ankles, give you a cheeky elbow at a corner, pull your shirt, and do it all with a smile on his face and then give you a wink, knowing that he has truly become a master of the dark arts. He is Captain Hook, the Big Bad Wolf and a world class defender rolled into one.

Wherever he goes, he steals the limelight and for that you must have at least a bit of begrudging respect. In an increasingly sanitised footballing landscape, characters like him must be cherished, not lambasted for indulging in a bit of gamesmanship.

Feeling hard done by after losing a final is a natural reaction, but spare us the petitions, the lawsuits and the tantrums. That energy can be channeled into much more worthy causes.

Sergio Ramos has come a long way since he broke through at Sevilla as a baby-faced, long-haired, right-back. He’s made defending cool again, and not just passing out from the back – he has put the glamour back into last ditch tackles; the perfect mix of the old school and new.

151 Spain caps, several haircuts, countless tattoos and four Champions League titles later, he’s still the same Ramos: A winner and an entertainer. Ultimately, while he rubs some people up the wrong way, the game is richer for him.