At one point, almost two years ago, it looked like Sergio Ramos might well have been on his way to Manchester United. Indeed, he has since revealed that he considered an offer from the Old Trafford giants.
As the club were still managed by Louis van Gaal, and with Ed Woodward still finding his feet in the United boardroom, the club were the subject of quite a few reported cloak and dagger situations involving some of the sport’s biggest names. And yet, none really came off.
In fact, perhaps it was all a ruse. Perhaps Ramos just wanted a new contract and took Manchester United out for a ride as an instrument of his own desires, fabricating interest from a big club with a hapless transfer negotiator and signing on the dotted line at Real Madrid when they finally relented, sighed, and told him to call off the charade.
There may be rumours again this summer, and maybe with the club looking in better condition after the arrival of Jose Mourinho, they might have a better chance of sealing the deal. The outlook would probably be bleak, however. It doesn’t look as if Ramos is going anywhere.
There’s something different about Ramos.
For one thing, we’re talking about a man who has received 21 red cards in his career. Although his tally is impressive – if that’s the right word – he hasn’t walked yet this season. Perhaps that’s a sign of maturity for a player who turns 31 today, but it shows something of a streak.
Not necessarily a hot-headed streak, either. Just a fiery one. This isn’t a player who will sit back and let things happen. He’s a man who forces the issue. And not just for himself, but for his team, too.
This is a man who, in 508 appearances for Real Madrid, has scored 68 goals. It’s not a bad return of around one goal every seven games, and his 10 international goals is more than many strikers manage at international level. But there’s just something about the goals he scores, too – late goals against top Spanish sides, including at the Camp Nou in December to rescue a point in injury time, and even in a Champions League final.
There just aren’t really defenders like him – goalscoring defenders who just seem to make their own luck. Sid Lowe has recalled Ramos’s ‘sadness’ at going through a ‘goal drought’ in Spain’s 2010 World Cup campaign. Winning the trophy wasn’t really enough, getting a goal would have been a much better outcome.
Ramos is clearly a gifted defender and a man who is also a danger in the other 18-yard box, too. But that’s not a reason for United to feel like they’ve missed out by failing to land his signature. It’s not just that they didn’t land a goalscoring defender, but the fact that he comes up with the kinds of goals he scores, and the fact he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in a tackle show that he has a grit and determination to his game.
We hear a lot about ‘born winners’, especially in the context of Arsenal at the moment. But the truth is, they’re in short supply at Manchester United, too. Only really Zlatan Ibrahimovic fits that mould. And that’s why United should feel like they’ve missed out – not just on a great player, but a great character, too.
And if it weren’t for the fact that United looked so limp and pathetic in the few years after Alex Ferguson left the club, who knows, maybe Ramos would have arrived. But one thing’s for sure: had Ramos joined Manchester United two years ago, Jose Mourinho wouldn’t have to look only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic for leadership on the pitch.
He might not even have to look to Zlatan for goals, either.