With Spain apparently on the brink of Civil War II, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos are predictably back in the news. For many, these two footballers are as representative of their respective ‘nations’ as any other contemporary figures. And, if the media are to be believed, they hate each other – despite both men repeatedly stating, ‘We do not hate each other.’
But, in truth, Pique v Ramos is clearly no feud. It’s an ultra-modern, testosterone-drenched forbidden love-style bromance played out at a suitably histrionic pitch for the political and sporting rivalries it has come to define. Piqué and Ramos are now arguably Spanish football and the Clásico’s protagonists, their madcap tit-for-tat having long since eclipsed the tiresome Messi-Ronaldo dichotomy.
This is a dangerous liaison played out in front of a global audience. On the field of play, in hysterical post-match interviews and, perhaps most entertainingly, via the most public forum of them all, Twitter, we have watched as Gerard and Sergio have gradually fallen in love with one another over the course of nearly a decade of bickering and squabbling.
“All we do is make up, then break up”, sang poet and singer-songwriter Blu Cantrell in 2003, and she might as well have been referring directly to these two factional icons, who now seem to spend most of their spare time engaged in the mother of all boundary-crossing love/hate relationships.
What was once merely a pair of emoji-wielding foes locked in a vacuum of one-upmanship has become a duo of star cross’d lovers forced to compete against one another. And yet, despite the facile Montague v Capulet parallels, the Piqué-Ramos duality owes more to trashy buddy-cop comedies than Shakespeare: a pair of idiosyncratic and ideologically opposed figures forced to work together and overcome their differences For The Good Of The Force.
Which is precisely what this permatanned and manicured odd couple has done, albeit with “the force” in this case being the Spanish national team rather than some fictional, under-resourced big-city US precinct. They have excelled in partnership for La Roja, serving with apparent enthusiasm and obvious synergy as the defensive lynchpins of one of the world’s most iconic sides.
As Ramos himself recently said, “I defend what’s mine, Piqué what’s his and when we defend the same we do it together”.
In so many ways, Piqué and Ramos personify the divides between Barcelona and Madrid, Catalonia and Spain, but somehow transcend both. Their boundless self-confidence and elevated status allow them to fan the flames of the forest-fire that is Barça v Réal and its ephemera, all the while huddling together and enjoying the warmth from a safe point high above the blaze.
Aside from their clear political polarity, the two men are quite different characters.
Sid Lowe describes Piqué as “urbanite from a respected family with political, social and economic muscle in Catalonia, son of a prestigious doctor, grandson of a former Barcelona director”.
And if that wasn’t enough, on the football pitch he is “‘Piquenbauer’, elegant and technically gifted … Smoothness personified”. To top it all off, he’s happily married to a diminutive Colombian pop-siren whose hips are, famously, as honest as the day is long.
He now combines all the elements of central defensive play: strength, aerial ability and positioning, but also the competent passing and assured first touch that marks a classical ball-playing fulcrum. What’s more, he does it with a graceful, inimitable style: the effortless confidence of the well-heeled jock is strong in Piqué, and it’s reflected in his on-pitch demeanour; cocksure but unaffected.
But where Piqué is calm to the point of nonchalance, Ramos is all barely contained aggression and fierce endeavour. He is a wrecking-ball of a player, a tattooed menace who embodies the spirit of la furía as much as any other contemporary Spanish player.
Per Lowe, he is, “Captain, action man, daft at times, almost comically heroic, there’s something a little playful about him, chaotic too at times, even outright bad occasionally, and there’s a reason why he has more red cards than anyone else in history”.
Ramos comes from Camas, a modest town in the Andalusian interior – bullfighting country – and is a great admirer of the matadors.
One of whom, Alejandro Talavante, once said of his friend Sergio, “You can tell he knows his stuff. He is a brave guy with lots of personality.”
Whether by conscious effort or not, Ramos’ footballing style reflects the perceived virtues of the matador – bravery, romance, machismo – and it has endeared him deeply to many Madridistas, who see in him the ideal of traditional Spanish masculinity, a quixotic contrast to the rather more genteel Piqué.
Piqué certainly hates Réal Madrid, and Ramos certainly hates Barça, but in the words of another polarising modern icon, “Gods recognise Gods.”