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FOOTBALL

Ramos in spotlight again but Madrid need him more than ever

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

Ramos in spotlight again but Madrid need him more than ever
Sergio Ramos talks to team mates after scoring a goal. Photo: AFP

Deep in the belly of the tiny 7,083-capacity Ipurua stadium, 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 on Tuesday, when the winner is likely to go through top of Group G.

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

The most damaging among them claimed Ramos 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.”

He added: “These types of people try to stain my reputation and my professional career.” 

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

In September, Antoine Griezmann was in the firing line when Ramos used a Champions League press conference to slap down the Frenchman's pinings for the Ballon d'or 

“Ignorance is bold,” Ramos said, poker-faced.   

More recently, he turned Antonio Conte from favourite 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. 

He is loved by Real Madrid, their captain and winner of four Champions League titles, as well as another four in La Liga. He is liked too at the Benito Villamarin, where Real Betis fans still appreciate him leaving their 
rivals, Sevilla.   

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.    

Red-card villain

Lionel Messi knows the feeling. In 2010, Ramos lashed him to the ground with a swinging left boot and in 2017, clattered him again, sliding in as Barca threatened a counter-attack. 

Both times, Ramos was sent off, two of his 19 La Liga red cards, the most of any player still playing by quite a distance.    

There would be more if referees had interpreted differently all flailing arms, charging shoulders and misplaced feet too ambiguous to be deemed deliberate. 

Mohamed Salah missed most of the World Cup finals after one such tussle in the Champions League final.

More than 530,000 Liverpool fans signed a petition demanding retrospective action against Ramos. 

“No one's nose is more fractured than Ramos',” Santiago Solari said this month. “There is no bad intention, he always plays fair. This is a contact sport.”

Ramos has long been a colossus for Real Madrid and, over the past decade, arguably the finest central defender in the world.   

The concern, however, is that this season, for club and country, he has been nowhere close to those standards.   

His increasingly error-ridden partnership with Raphael Varane at the back became as much a problem for Lopetegui as a lack of firepower up front. 

Sevilla and Barcelona each took advantage, to the tune of eight goals between them. 

England capitalised too, winning 3-2 in Seville, and then Croatia did, by the same scoreline in Zagreb.

While Ramos is far from solely culpable, some are beginning to wonder if he has become too eager to pick a fight. His focus might have wavered.   

Ramos admitted on Saturday he had been aware for months of the anti-doping allegations and it is possible angst has taken its toll.   

It is also true the 32-year-old 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.

By AFP's Thomas Allnut

 

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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