Friday 18 October 2019

Master of cynicism Sergio Ramos is the dark heart of Madrid

Sergio Ramos tangles with Mo Salah in the incident which saw the Liverpool star injure his left shoulder. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich
Sergio Ramos tangles with Mo Salah in the incident which saw the Liverpool star injure his left shoulder. Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Paul Hayward

With Sergio Ramos skipping along with the trophy and Florentino Perez, the president, hugging Gareth Bale, this should have been one of the great coronations. Instead, there was a darkness about Real Madrid's hat-trick of Champions League titles.

There always is at this level, you could argue, because elite football is about power - financial and political. Yet Bale, despite being hugged by Perez, is cheesed off in Madrid and sounded as if he wanted to leave.

Cristiano Ronaldo used the occasion of the club's 13th European title to suggest the curtain was falling on his time at the Bernabeu. And Ramos, whose tangle with Mohamed Salah removed Liverpool's best player, gave reporters a smug grin when asked to discuss the game.

Unless Ramos has a rhino's hide, or never looks at his phone, he would have felt less untouchable yesterday morning.

With two incidents in Real Madrid's 3-1 win, La Liga's all-time record holder for red and yellow cards managed to offend the whole of Egypt and the global clan of Liverpool fans.

The indignation was startling. And that was before fresh footage showed a separate clash, in the 49th minute, where Ramos ran into the Liverpool penalty box and used his elbow to strike the head of Loris Karius, the Liverpool keeper, who endured a miserable night.

Banjoed by Ramos in his own six-yard box, without sympathy or help from the referee, two minutes later he threw a ball straight at Karim Benzema's outstretched leg to put Real Madrid in front.

Heading for greater prominence in the hall of infamy was the wrestling match that may have ended Salah's hopes of representing Egypt in next month's World Cup - although the player says he is "confident" of featuring in Russia - and certainly blew a hole in Liverpool's chance of winning a sixth European title.

Just 28 minutes in, Ramos hooked his arm around Salah's and pulled him down, making no attempt to disengage as the pair headed towards the turf. With his arm trapped this way, Salah landed with it twisted behind him, and with added force. His pained reaction immediately suggested serious injury.

Salah tried to play on but broke down and left the stage in tears, with Ronaldo cupping his face in sympathy. Television pictures later showed Ramos grinning at team-mates, but there is no proof that he was celebrating his role in Salah's removal. No proof either that he meant to cause the man who had scored 44 goals for Liverpool in 2017-18 serious harm.

But his actions opened up that possibility, and Ramos's history of rough and devious play was bound to arouse suspicion.

In February this year, media in Spain reported that Ramos had "picked up more cards - yellow or red - than any other player in the history of La Liga, the Champions League and the Spain national team" with a grand total of 274.

No wonder that some questioned his motives in dragging Salah down so forcibly - intent, in these cases, is always hardest to judge.

Jurgen Klopp described the tangle as "like wrestling, a little bit. For me, it is a harsh challenge". Ramos was not booked for either the Salah incident or the elbow on Karius.

Social media condemnation was instant - when is it ever slow, or reflective? One writer accused him of being "the sort of guy who would unplug your life support machine to charge his phone".

In Egypt, "Spanish dog" was among the epithets. According to the AFP news agency, a cafe in Cairo where 500 people had gathered to watch the final began to empty when Salah left the field.

A master of cynicism, and a superb defender who never takes his eyes off the prize, Ramos will probably ignore this wave of hostility, which will not relent if Salah misses the World Cup.

It was, however, a complication in assessments of how much love Real deserve for becoming the first club since Bayern Munich in 1974-76 to complete a hat-trick of European Cup wins.

Ramos has helped them to four in five seasons. At the same time, Zinedine Zidane becomes the first coach to win three straight.

These landmarks will leave some cold, but Madrid's tenacity, and big-game know-how alone, deserve more credit than was on show in Kiev, where Bale and Ronaldo chose the night of a great collective triumph to pronounce on their own futures.


Bale could contain his frustration no longer. Ronaldo was playing a more nuanced political game.

By doing so, he deflected attention from his own glorious relationship with Europe's foremost club, which echoes Alfredo Di Stefano's in the 1950s, when Real Madrid scored their first hat-trick in the competition.

There are some mighty players in Zidane's Real Madrid team. Luka Modric, for example, has been exemplary in midfield. They are a model of how to win, how to adapt to changing circumstances in games, how to deploy individual talent and (just about) marshal egos. Zidane has defied those who said his appointment was cosmetic and brand-driven.

There is a lot to like and admire about them; less to love.

Ramos, the destroyer, is not looking for bouquets from neutrals. (© The Daily Telegraph)

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