Just before 3am at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, and a good three hours after Real Madrid had won the Champions League for the 13th time, Sergio Ramos finally came out of the dressing room. The captain had to go through the mixed zone, where many of the press who had waited so long for him had many questions to ask, especially about specific elements of his performance. There was above anything the moment that really won the final, when Ramos’ force was responsible for Mo Salah – by far Liverpool’s best player – having to go off injured.
“One for the English press,” the Independent asked. Ramos’ previously determined face broke into a smile, and he said “yes”, before nodding to what was in his hands: the European Cup itself.
It was an answer with a lot more to it than one simple word and a nod, given everything that had happened during the game and everything it representing.
One reading was clear. The trophy is all that matters.
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Everything else completely pales next to its shine. The trophy says it all.
Any other answer given to any question would be irrelevant, because that piece of silverware is what it’s all about.
It is an end that justifies the meanness.
It’s impossible to know whether Ramos intended this meaning, just as it’s impossible – and arguably libellous – to say that he intended to actually injure Salah and put him out of the game.
No one can say for certain that the Spanish captain cynically targeted Salah, in the way that isn’t really seen in the more sanitised modern game, and that hasn’t even really been seen in a European Cup final since 1963. That was in more innocent era of football, but one that was about to turn much uglier, as AC Milan heralded the arrival of catenaccio – in every sense – by so blatantly targeting Benfica playmaker Mario Coluna and putting him out of the game to win 2-1.
No one can say that of Ramos, but a few things can be said.
Through 22 red cards, he has repeatedly proven he is a player who will go to the very edge of the rules to get the very slightest advantage. This is what blatantly appeared the case with Salah.
Ramos ended Salah’s Champions League final (Getty)
Even if it was not pre-meditated, Ramos seemed to instantly sense an opportunity to make it as awkward as possible for the Egyptian, holding his arm and tugging it as he fell in a way that did not seem natural or necessary for leverage.
The best you could say in such a case is that he just wanted to “leave something in”, as defenders have been doing since the dawn of the game. The worst was that it was football’s equivalent of a rugby spear tackle.
Ramos himself offered his own explanation to a question no one got to ask him, indicating in a tweet just after he walked through the mixed zone that it was all just an accident.
“Sometimes football shows you its good side and other times the bad,” Ramos wrote. “Above all, we are fellow pros. Get well soon @MoSalah.”
One problem either way is that it makes such injuries much more likely if you engage in that.
Another problem for Ramos’ reputation is that any benefit of the debate is complicated by everything that happened before, and everything that came after.
An often ugly career saw one of its ugliest individual games. The Salah incident was followed by a suspect collision with Loris Karius after a corner, albeit when Virgil van Dijk seemed to push Ramos, and then a clear piece of simulation beside Sadio Mane.
Except, he probably doesn’t see it as a problem at all. He won.
For Ramos the ends justified the meanness (Getty)
Much of it then comes down to individual perception and morals.
For some, this is beyond gamesmanship or cynicism or anything like that. It is just blatant cheating.
For others, it is the reality of the game at the top level, and just what is required to win. It’s your problem if you’re incapable of coping with this. This is the big leagues, rookie.
Maybe that’s something that Ramos meant when he said “above all we are fellow pros”. This is what professionalism is really about, and the source of phrases like “professional foul”.
The defender had a superb game for the champions (REUTERS)
Liverpool themselves know that too well.
Their own initial four European Cups were built on the bullying of hard men like Tommy Smith and – above all – Graeme Souness.
That’s not to indulge in whataboutery here. It’s to indicate the reality of the game.
Ramos knows that better than anyone, as proven by how he’s better at it than anyone. That is proven by all those Champions Leagues.
He has the trophy in his hands again now. That, as Ramos might well say, is all that matters.
It is, again, the end that justifies the meanness. And again, and again, and again, and again – for the fourth time in five years. That’s what it takes.
Ramos got what he wanted… (Getty)
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