|Sergio Ramos celebrates his crucial equaliser.|
Fortunately for Iker Casillas, Carlo Ancelotti and Madridistas around the globe, Sergio focused on the most fabled grail this year: La Décima. A pantheon of greats have tried and failed to satisfy Real's thirst for that ultimate crown, but few possessed the drive of Ramos. The all-important equaliser, propelled goalward by his sweat-soaked brow in the waning minutes of a most attritional final, was a fitting microcosm: Sergio eyeing an opportunity and committing every resource within his power to making it count. Nothing on Planet Earth was stopping him from scoring that goal. He bustled and barged and hurtled through the air, intent on plundering home when Real needed him most. Arguably, his greatest skill is in making those grim, gruesome, grueling moments of sporting accomplishment look so easy, so routine, so cool.
I'm yet to see a more elegant warhorse.
That momentous goal will be preserved in the annals of Real history, but Ramos' overall performance will live longer in the memory. It's often said that true legends rise to the occasion, make a difference on the big stage, perform when the chips are down. In Lisbon, Sergio Ramos didn't so much acknowledge these statements as re-define them. Like a courageous Braveheart, he rolled-up those white sleeves and thoroughly dominated club football's defining showcase. He won every header, made interceptions which defied belief, and patrolled the Real backline with regal supremacy. The guy was immense.
Rarely have I encountered a player endowed with such sensitive perception of how a game is developing; with such clear understanding of what his team needs and exactly when; with such ability to alter the unfurling narratives of football.
For all intents and purposes, Real were down and out. Diego Simeone's trademark brand of abrasive football, coupled with a rare moment of fatal indecision from Iker Casillas, hauled Atlético to within seconds of victory. The burden of history, of expectation, of twelve fruitless years on the grandest stage, added weight to the Real jersey. They churned away, hoping for one last opportunity. Bale went close after a typical mazy run. Di Maria was lively. Marcelo provided impetus. All the while, Ramos sensed his moment, sensed the dawning hour of need. He began to initiate play, injecting a relentless tempo with raking passes and entertaining forays forward. He broke lines, daring to join play as an auxiliary midfielder. He remained optimistic.
With such gestures, such joviality, such ambition does a fighting matador lead by example. By streaking forward, Ramos conveys to teammates the urgency of a moment. By quickening play, Ramos reminds what is expected from any Real Madrid player. By instructing in demonstrative, heart-on-the-sleeve style, Ramos cajoles a desired outcome.In this instance, he was required to walk across every suspension tightrope, negotiate every hostile on-field flare-up, and screech home a 90th minute header, but he succeeded at every turn.
Sure, Ronaldo and Bale will win a majority of plaudits for adding goals to a dazzling victory but, without Sergio, the game would have ended in dull melancholy thirty minutes prior to those belated contributions. Indeed, Ramos, this spirited warrior for club and country, deserves far more recognition than he is presently accorded. Here, we have a gutsy, swashbuckling centre-half who has won 3 Liga titles, 2 Copa del Rey, 2 European Championships, 1 World Cup and 1 self-published Décima, all whilst playing his own brand of enigmatic circus football.
Surely a Ballon d'Or can't be far away?
Ramos' fingerprints decorate this latest jewel in the illustrious Real dynasty. Aside from the heroic Lisbon equaliser, he powered Madrid's progress with two sublime goals against Bayern Munich in the Semi-Final. Indeed, this season's Champions League has provided a fitting stage for such a virtuoso player to reach his peak. Sergio Ramos plays football like we think it and, accordingly, he's not short of fans. The entire world has watched in awe at his ubiquitous, life-and-death defending; his effervescent penchant for last-ditch blocks and adventurous clearances. We appreciate his enthusiasm and admire his skill. We commend his bravery and applaud his genius. We just can't get enough.
A lot of writers have showered Sergio Ramos with platitudes. Thus, a great many words accurately describe him: leader, hero, combatant.
But I can think of only one singular word which encompasses his attitude of raw passion, unbridled commitment and steely resolve.