It is hard to imagine how Sergio Ramos feels. Following a week during which Real Madrid’s season has disintegrated, the captain must surely have been smarting when Ajax tore his heavily tattooed hands away from the trophy they have held for 1012 days. As a camera whirred next to him, capturing his reaction to the end of Madrid’s Champions League run, his upcoming Amazon Prime documentary series will surely be enhanced by the fact that, without his sheer force of personality, Madrid lost their grip on the competition that defines them.
This is why it is impossible to imagine that Ramos is too cut up by this supposedly tragic exit. His importance to the team has been constantly underlined by a series of heroic late goals when he is playing, and is now further illustrated by the complete lack of leadership and inspiration that Real suffered from against a confident and stylish Ajax side. In a season that has been dominated by speculation and power plays, Ramos’s influence has extended to executive level, after he vetoed the arrival of Antonio Conte, and firmly set his stall out in opposition to the reappointment of Jose Mourinho.
Against Atletico Madrid, who sit above Real in the table, Ramos gleefully celebrated his penalty, performing a dance befitting an older brother taunting his younger sibling behind his mother’s back. Against Barcelona, losing again at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ramos wrote his headlines, clashing with Lionel Messi after aiming a forearm into the Argentinian’s face. These acts make it almost impossible not to admire the impenetrable lack of shame, because, in the best and worst moments for his club, he is always central to the storyline. While filming for Amazon, this directorial flair will surely translate into a fascinating study of ego and mischief to rank alongside Satan in Paradise Lost, or, more fittingly, Tirso De Molina’s Don Juan, El Burlador de Sevilla.
In the final act of the Spanish play, Don Juan must bravely consume a plate of snakes and scorpions, before the ghost of Don Gonzalo, a man he killed in a duel, returns from the grave to strike him dead. In Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid have their own Andalusian outlaw, whose fate may well be determined by the return of a ghost from his footballing past – Jose Mourinho. Like Tirso’s protagonist, Ramos is happy to feast on the vitriol that comes his way, and it has become a definitive feature of the way he is perceived.
As Real Madrid embark on their painful soul-searching exercise, Ramos can sleep soundly in the knowledge that his legend has been preserved by the despicable and the brave footballing acts that make up his own drama. Boldly announcing that he deliberately committed a foul, (“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t”) in order to be suspended for the second leg is just another stunning piece of soliloquy that his audience can fondly remember and cherish, like the great Spanish play that his career has become.