As the excitement over the 2019 Champions League final builds, there’s plenty to be enthused about.
Two English clubs will face off in the showcase for the first time in more than a decade, with both of them making it to Madrid in dramatic fashion following second-leg comebacks at the semi-final stage.
However, as we prepare to watch Liverpool take on Tottenham on Saturday, we can’t help shake the feeling that something is missing.
Is it really a Champions League final if Sergio Ramos isn’t involved?
Four of the last five Champions League finals have involved Real Madrid, and Ramos has played a prominent role in each of them. He scored in the 2014 and 2016 games against Atlético Madrid and was considered public enemy number one by Liverpool fans for his role in Mohamed Salah’s injury last year.
Even the 2017 competition saw the Spaniard in the thick of things, playing his part in Juan Cuadrado’s dismissal and lifting the trophy as Real Madrid captain.
Since 2016, the world has felt a growing level of polarisation between good and evil, be it in politics or the wider world, and the need for someone to acknowledge that lack of nuance and lean into it has never been higher.
Thankfully, Ramos has not needed a second invitation to fill the role.
The 2014 equaliser was his first introduction as villain of the piece on the highest stage, even if the clues had been there before.
Atlético Madrid were aiming to show us anything was possible after Borussia Dortmund’s David had been swatted aside by the Goliath of Bayern Munich one year prior, and it looked like they were going to do it.
After Diego Godín’s equaliser at Barcelona gave Diego Simeone’s side a surprise La Liga title one week prior, the Uruguayan struck again in the first half in Lisbon. Atléti had lost talisman Diego Costa to an early injury, but as the clock ticked past 90 they were ready to defy the odds again… until Ramos popped up.
A normal equaliser, midway through the second half, wouldn’t have sufficed. He needed to wait until the final moment, the point at which the opposition had dared to think about celebrations and parades, to stick the knife in.
It might increase the stress on your team-mates to leave it that late, but when you pull the blade out the blood tastes that much sweeter after a late, late goal.
While other footballers might spend their entire careers striving to be the protagonist of the game, Ramos has embraced the role of antagonist. In 2016, he went into the book in the final minute of stoppage time for wiping out Yannick Carrasco as the Atléti winger looked to get a clear run on goal, infuriating the Belgian’s team-mates who called for a card of a different colour.
Naturally, he went on to score in the penalty shoot-out – via a stutter-step, no less, just in case there were any ‘neutrals’ left who he hadn’t yet angered.
He is the kind of player who seems to set out to do whatever makes you – yes, you specifically – the most angry. There aren’t many players who could go into a game containing both Cristiano Ronaldo and shithouse-in-chief Diego Costa and come out as the undisputed villain of the piece, but at the same time it’s nice to see him do the same against less controversial opponents just to demonstrate he’s in this for himself and no one else.
Sergio Ramos wasn’t the captain of Real Madrid – Real Madrid were the captain of Sergio Ramos.
He was even able to orchestrate the manner in which his team fell short in its Champions League defence this season. It wasn’t the first time he has picked up a suspension ahead of what he considered a dead rubber, but it’s certainly one of the first times it hasn’t worked, with Ajax stunning Real Madrid at the Bernabéu in his absence.
That’s the problem with pushing your villainy to the limits – eventually it will catch up on you, like a Bond villain basing his plans on giving 007 enough room to escape and assuming evil will prosper because, well, it usually does.
Will Ramos change his ways after being stung?
We doubt it, and you’ll know which side you come down on – either you want ‘the good guys’ to triumph, or you’ll marvel at the efforts to which he has gone to not just win, but win by just enough to rile up anyone rooting for the other guys.
When the game kicks off at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday night, plenty of you will still be at a loss when it comes to determining who you want to win.
When that happens, just remember you wouldn’t be in that situation if Sergio Ramos was playing.