The past two seasons have been defined by Liverpool’s dominance, as they won the Champions League in 2019 and were on course to win the Premier League by a landslide this year. Their hegemony has resulted in world admiration for Dutch center-half Virgil Van Dijk, who has seemingly racked up all possible personal accolades for a defender, bar the Ballon d’Or. He even finished second ahead of Ronaldo in the latest award’s voting, and was only a few votes off winner Messi. In an age where attacking play has been tremendously rewarded in personal awards, Van Dijk seems pretty close to hitting the heights Fabio Cannavaro did in 2006.
That being said, the question remains: is Virgil Van Dijk really the best out and out defender in the world? Troy Deeney would say so, given that he is “too big, too strong, too quick, and too good on the ball […] and he always smells nice.” Names being thrown around as close seconds and thirds are the likes of Aymeric Laporte and Raphäel Varane. These players are fantastic, but it seems one very noteworthy name has been forgotten.
Only three players have scored in each of the last 15 La Liga seasons. The first is obvious, Lionel Messi. Next is Basque hitman Aritz Aduriz, no real surprise. Finally, the one you probably wouldn’t have guessed, Spain captain Sergio Ramos. Not many players demonstrate the level of consistency Ramos has ever since he made his Real Madrid debut. The Spanish captain has been in the FIFPro World XI ever since 2011, coinciding the start of Real Madrid’s decade of dominance.
Standing Up to Messi
Since Ronaldo left La Liga for the Serie A, Messi has been the unrivaled star in Spain’s top division. Messi frequently waltzes around La Liga defenders as if they’re not even there. That being said, Messi’s Barça are yet to beat Real Madrid this season. While credit is due to Zidane and his fresher, younger side, much more credit must go to captain Sergio Ramos, who remains at the top of his game despite having just turned 34.
It’s no surprise that the man whose quest it has been to stop Messi ever since his Madrid debut in the mid-2000s is Sergio Ramos. With a lion- and warrior-like attitude, Ramos backs down to no one. He is always the first to put in a hard challenge, and has no problem taking one for the team when he is the last man. When Madrid new-boy Federico Valverde tells the story of his famous red-card challenge on Alvaro Morata from earlier this season, he makes sure to note that Ramos was right behind him, barking at him to “kill him.” Not many players possess the charisma, confidence, and bravery Sergio Ramos displays week in and week out.
Underrated Versatility and Athleticism
When Ramos originally signed for Real from Sevilla in 2005, he was pushed out to right back given the amount of “Galactico” purchases Florentino Perez had made. In his first four seasons, he played right back, and showed the sort of goalscoring instinct that not many defenders possess. By 2010, he was appointed one of the four club captains, and had the most ball recoveries for his club.
Ramos’ beginnings at right-back are not only a sign of tremendous versatility, but of world-class athleticism. There are numerous stories of Ramos making crunching challenges, spearheading counter-attacks, and finishing them off himself. His ability to have be dominant in close to every game comes down partly to his athletic ability.
The “Clutch Gene”
When fans discuss G.O.A.T.s of any sport, they usually possess one distinct quality that not many can boast on their CVs. Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo are the names that most frequently come up in these sorts of conversations. Sergio Ramos’ name should be considered for this list. Not many leaders and captains have his scoring ability, the definition of leading from the front (but actually from the back). His goal in the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico is still one of the most clutch moments the sport has ever seen.
Unluckily for Ramos, he plays in the generation with the two best players ever. Otherwise, I believe he could have been compared to the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, in terms of personal accolades for best defenders ever. As far as Real Madrid legends go, Ramos is right up there with the very best. We can only hope Spain will have a resurgence come the Euros, under the guidance of El Capitán.