Atletico Madrid's Copa Del Rey win over Real on Friday wasn't just about short-term glory, says Tim Stannard, but a chance to build for better things ahead...
Atletico Madrid haven't beaten their bitter rivals in almost 14 years. But Tim Stannard says that if anyone can help the Rojiblancos end that curse, it's Diego Simeone...
Everyone has a guilty secret concerning a footballer they adore. A player that the majority will brand as useless, a tool or the worst curse of all - overrated. A secret that will be mocked mercilessly by the massive when revealed.
For this column, that player is Sergio Ramos, a footballer who has elbowed aside (what else with Ramos) Micky Stockwell in this person's affections, but a player that is always constantly watchable. It's not even a simple man-crush. That honour falls to Fabio Cannavaro who won your correspondent's heart forever during an interview for being utterly charming, having astonishingly dreamy eyes and wandering into the room with his odds and ends packed away in a tatty plastic bag, rather than something crafted by Coach.
As it happens, Ramos fulfils most of these qualities too, although his choice of plastic bag is unknown. The real Madrid defender is very much the epitome of Tarzan, the nickname given to him by former club president, Ramón Calderón, when the defender sported wild flowing locks rather than the Wham soul beard and fringe that is currently atop the Spaniard's head. The footballer has a beast of a physique, is a battering ram in both boxes (a bit Freudian there) and is as good an athlete as Cristiano Ronaldo, although not as speedy. The footballer has quite the reputation in Spain as a bit of a player off the field too, with the defender a fixture in the gossip papers due to a number of foxy squeezes over the years.
Above all else, however, Sergio Ramos has developed into an outstanding footballer, although many will still recall a player from a few years ago that was impulsive, too often out of position and a magnet for red cards. That's still the case in the latter department with Ramos suggesting after a recent dismissal that his sendings off now take place because "it's easy to give a red card to Sergio Ramos."
However, a club and international move to a centre-back role that the defender that had always craved, alongside increasing experience and maturity, sees Ramos as one of the best stoppers in the game and the reason why Friday's Spain clash against Finland sees the player making his 100th appearance for his country at the age of just 26.
That kind of milestone doesn't happen by chance for an outfield player. The Spain coach when Ramos made his first international appearance in March 2005, Luis Aragonés, told the footballer before the game that "I've got your back and the critics will be for me." And by heavens there have been a lot of them out to get Ramos since that moment, especially since a move from Sevilla to Real Madrid a few months later. To be fair, a large chunk of Ramos's knockers (more Freud) had a point with the defender struggling to balance the attacking and defensive roles of a fullback, an affliction that sees Ramos with twelve red cards during his Real Madrid career.
However, Sergio Ramos has been an indispensable footballer for Real Madrid and Spain and it's only for the crime of standing up to José Mourinho that saw the defender being dropped to the bench earlier this season. Indeed, Ramos was rubbing up against his coach (yet more Freud) only this week, admitting that he was disappointed by Mourinho's comment that "the better team lost" after the Manchester United clash at Old Trafford. "We are both fighting for the same objective," explained Ramos to Marca, making reference to what has always been a tempestuous relationship between a World Cup winning footballer who doesn't fully respect a coach that achieved nothing as a player and a manager who has a footballer that doesn't always do as he's told. "No-one should doubt that he has all my respect," claimed Ramos.
This willingness to be more vocal of late reflects a growing maturity for Ramos and the assumption that he will be a future captain for both club and country, a role currently occupied by Iker Casillas, who may well find that Diego López will be between the sticks for Real Madrid for the rest of the season, leaving the defender temporarily in charge.
Indeed, Ramos is the perfect epitome of a leader, a determined footballer who can set the example with battling performances at the back and goals up front, and also give hefty shoves to opposition player when required. It's also sign of an intelligent, thoughtful figure, far from the image of a bimbo that Ramos has picked up over the years.
Whilst there was much mocking of a message to fans made to Real Madrid fans on a club website (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEZLopgz938) - his English is actually fairly proficient and the language of choice with best friend Mesut Özil - it reflects a desire to be open, honest and most of all brave, knowing the flack that would surely be coming his way from the sneering Youtube collective.
Perhaps the definitive reason why Ramos is my big guilty pleasure is because he's a footballer who could be cloned eleven times and have a fantastic game in every position across the pitch, like a comic book hero from the 1970s. Most will mock and decry this revelation and brand Ramos a hack and a haircut, but nothing will prevent a huge deep-seated love and respect for a footballer that is set to be one of the all-time greats for Spain.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter
Great feature, although a little disappointed you didn't mention Sergio's beautiful hair or perfectly groomed eyebrows- bigm 1982