Tough times call for Real hero

Sports | 27 Nov 2018

More than hour after the final whistle had sounded on Real Madrid's 3-0 humiliation by Eibar last weekend, Sergio Ramos began to let rip.

Ramos said his side's attitude had been off, their intensity lacking. "When you don't match your opponent, you become a vulgar team," he said.

It was not the result Real wanted before they travel to Roma in the Champions League tomorrow (HK time), when the winner is likely to go through top of Group G.

Then Ramos moved onto the anti-doping allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel.

The most damaging among them claimed the 32-year-old Real captain tested positive for dexamethasone after the 2017 Champions League final and failed to declare it, as is required according to World Anti-Doping Authority regulations. Responding for the first time, Ramos said: "You can tell a lie many times over but it is still a lie."

The issue may have been exceptional but the sharpness of tongue and apparent readiness for confrontation has become a part of Ramos' football persona.

In September, Antoine Griezmann was in the firing line when Ramos slapped down the Frenchman's pinings for the Ballon d'Or. "Ignorance is bold," Ramos said, poker-faced.

More recently, he turned Antonio Conte from favorite to no-hoper in the running to replace Julen Lopetegui as Real coach. "Respect is earned, not imposed", Ramos said, supposedly a dig at Conte, a renowned disciplinarian.

This pugnacious Ramos off the pitch chimes so perfectly with his demonic reputation on it and so it seems possible that one of the game's most reviled characters has begun to revel in the noise that surrounds him. The four-time Champions League winner is loved by Real, but there are few stadiums where the sound of screeching whistles are not heard as soon as Ramos leaves an opposition striker in a heap. Liverpool's Mohamed Salah missed most of the World Cup finals after one such tussle.

Ramos has long been a colossus for Real and, over the past decade, arguably the finest central defender in the world. The concern, however, is that this season, for club and country, Ramos has been nowhere close to those standards.

It is also true he has often underperformed at this stage of the season, only to become faultless around the time the trophies are handed out in May. With a new coach, the Champions League group stage getting tight and six points to make up in La Liga, Madrid could do with that upswing to come early.

They need Ramos now more than ever, not the brawler or the bravado, but the player.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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