Football Features

“King” Sergio Ramos lifts Real Madrid to victory over Athletic Club as Los Blancos close in on La Liga title

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:34, 5 July 2020 | Updated: 9:56, 30 March 2021

In a tight and tense afternoon of football, Real Madrid beat Athletic Club 0-1 at San Mamés.

A controversial penalty kick decided the game and gave Los Blancos the big win that takes them seven points clear at the top of La Liga and all but assures them of claiming the title for the first time since 2017.

The obvious conspiracy is that referees are handing Real Madrid La Liga, but that absurd line of thinking forgets one thing: even if every single penalty given to Madrid was bogus, they still had to be scored. Even if all the opposing goals disallowed were incorrect, Madrid still had to score winners (because they certainly haven’t been drawing games).

And thus we get to the heart of the matter: even if all conspiratorial nonsense was true (it’s not, Real Madrid have simply had the benefit of several fortunate refereeing decisions since La Liga restarted in June), the referees have not been simply gifting Los Blancos three points every three days. Zinedine Zidane’s men have been playing on the razor’s edge, winning every game by the finest of margins with near-flawless performances.

Seven games, seven wins. 13 goals scored, just under two a game sure, but five clean sheets and just two goals conceded. This is a Madrid that builds from the back in both a literal and figurative sense. They are rock solid and give the opponent precious little chance to attack their goal, and when they do get by the defenders they have to face the imperious Thibaut Courtois (who kept his 17th clean sheet of the season today, the first Madrid keeper to do so since 1995).

Playing on such a razor’s edge demands a leader to unify the side, a figure to ensure everyone plays at their top level. Now, Los Blancos have been crying out for a hero since Cristiano Ronaldo left, and whilst many had expected it to emerge in the forward line from a star signing like Eden Hazard (and certainly Karim Benzema’s resplendent form this season has made a great case for his own place as the icon of Real Madrid) it is in that powerful defensive line that Real Madrid find their talisman.

Sergio Ramos has always been a maddening presence, simultaneously a defensive liability and a crucial leader. The amount of times in the first-half that Inaki Williams tore away from Ramos who was absolutely clueless as to the Basque’s forwards positioning was absurd. There was also a moment when defending a cross in the box Ramos appeared late and clattered Dani Garcia with what looked like a raised arm, and moments after scoring a penalty to give Madrid the lead he stood on Raul Garcia’s foot and should have conceded a penalty – absurdly risky defending that was lucky to go unpunished.

But when Madrid need someone to stand up, to inspire others to play well, it’s always Sergio Ramos that shows up. It’s not a coincidence that both Eder Militao and Raphael Varane look better besides him than with each other. And all those penalties Madrid are lucky to get? It’s Ramos who steps up to score them. Today at San Mamés he bagged his second spot-kick in a row, his second game-winner in a row, his fifth goal since La Liga returned from lockdown (three of them have been penalties). He is Madrid’s second top-scorer for the entire season and the entire league’s top scorer since the restart.

That’s right, no player in La Liga has scored more than this centre-back. This brilliant bearded brute, looking like a mad viking who’d be just as happy on some ancient battlefield caving someone’s face in with an axe. He said in his post-match interview that if he was interested in individual accolades he would have played tennis, but tennis could have never contained a man of such savage genius.

Sergio Ramos is a warrior and a leader of men. He was raised in a cauldron of violence at Sevilla by two of the game’s most notorious hardmen Juan Navarro and Pablo Alfaro, then forged into a cast-iron winner by the likes of Xavi, Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol in the Spanish national side and José Mourinho at Real Madrid. He is the son of many fathers, and surpasses them all in terms of sheer bloody-minded determination to drag his team over the line by whatever means necessary.

Does he bend the rules? Break them? Sure he does, he has more red cards than anyone else in La Liga history. But he is also as reliable a player as you’re likely to find in terms of match-winning potential. So when Real Madrid play as they do, in games of such tight nature with so few chances for either side, they need a player like Ramos to lift them to victory. And he does. Every single time.

All hail Sergio Ramos Garcia: King of Madrid, Prince of Andalucia and Master of penalties Spain, and La Liga.